Greg Growden
ARU must act on Beale-Vuna or be damned
Greg Growden
March 25, 2013
Russell Barwick and Greg Growden discuss the issues of the week (video available only in Oceania)

How the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) handles the Kurtley Beale-Cooper Vuna brouhaha in South Africa will determine whether or not the organisation is just a soft touch. The union and its Super Rugby provinces have gone on and on for years about they are going to be tough, via their code of conduct, on player indiscretions. They have stressed endlessly the importance of elite players being role models, that the image of the game is so important, and that they will not condone anyone who steps out of line.

In reality, the ARU and co have adopted a "gunner" attitude: "gunner" as in "gunner do this, gunner do that, but in the end gunner do nothing". Players guilty of dreadful off-field behaviour often have been tickled meekly on the wrist; and embarrassing indiscretions have resulted only in minimal suspensions, as was the case when James O'Connor missed the announcement of the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011 squad after a night out on the squirt.

This has all led to a serious divide within the Wallabies team. Numerous senior players have been disgusted how some of the young guns in the squad have received, in their words, "preferential treatment" during the time Robbie Deans has been in charge of the Wallabies. The general behaviour of the Wallabies is of the highest order, but the 99 per cent "good eggs" in the squad have been let down in recent times by a few wayward egos.

Not surprisingly there was great interest among Australian players as details emerged of the kerfuffle on the Melbourne Rebels team bus in Durban after the franchise's record 64-7 thrashing at the hands of the Sharks. Beale is alleged to have struck both Vuna and club captain Gareth Delve during an argument on the bus. This followed Beale abusing Delve verbally after being told to put his shirt back on, and Vuna coming in to defend the team captain.

It must have been a fair tussle, as Rebels coach Damien Hill, who is in charge of the financially troubled and divided province, was forced to reveal in an official statement that he was "gutted and embarrassed for everyone associated with building this club". Equally gutting and embarrassing were several of Vuna's public tweets, which explained exactly what he thought of Beale before they were deleted. Grubby stuff.

The Rebels were a shower against the Sharks (video available only in Australia)

Here were all the signs of an organisation that has lost control to its players, an indication emphasised by the fact players had ignored Hill's suggestion that they remain at the team hotel after the match rather than going out.

Who was right or wrong on the bus ride from hell is yet to be officially revealed, but Beale's behaviour has been a serious concern for some time. ARU, Wallabies, New South Wales Waratahs and now Rebels officials have been aware for many years of Beale's off-field indiscretions, and they have constantly made promises to work on "improving his attitude". But a lot of what has been said by officials, many of whom appear obsessed in overly protecting Beale, has been absolute piffle. And now they are paying the price.

Beale is facing assault allegations after an incident at a Brisbane nightclub last year, when he was alleged to have struck a bouncer. The case was sent to mediation in February, with the first session scheduled for April 17.

There was also an incident during the 2010 end-of-season Wallabies tour involving Beale and two other Australia players. Wallabies team management carefully covered it up, but , deny it as much as they like, an incident involving Beale, O'Connor and Quade Cooper did occur at the end of that tour. Numerous other players have confirmed the incident to ESPN Scrum.

So it is time for the ARU at last to get serious about player behaviour, because their failure to do so is affecting the core of the Wallabies organisation. "Harden up," they say to their players. The ARU should take its own advice to heart.

How should the Australian Rugby Union handle the fallout from the incident involving Cooper Vuna and Kurtley Beale? Leave a comment below.

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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