Ruck'n Maul
'Inevitable' that ARU will select overseas players
Greg Growden
April 3, 2015
Ruck'n Maul: McCalman may force ARU's hand

The Australian Rugby Union continues to put up the 'stop' sign, but the pressure is building on them to be even more flexible with their player contract system. For the Wallabies to regain some status in the international rugby pecking order, it appears inevitable that they will have to allow Australian players who are contracted overseas to be eligible for national selection. The ARU stance that only Australian Super Rugby players can be selected for the Wallabies has its merits, but it is starting to look a bit silly when the national team find itself in a paltry sixth spot on the world rankings - with depth in several key positions decidedly thin. Adding to the concern is the anticipated mass exodus of players chasing the long-term overseas dollar following the 2015 Rugby World Cup tournament. There is also the argument over the point of shackling Australian rugby further, especially as Australia is the only major rugby country that has to vie for talent with three other highly popular football codes.

Ben McCalman is the latest Australian player to seek permission to take a short-term contract in Japan, with the proviso that he returns in time for the following Super Rugby season with either Western Force or New South Wales Waratahs. Such short-term overseas contracts on top of an ARU contract are now all the rage, and give the board some breathing space. The issue prompts concerns about player burnout - especially with performers flitting from country to country to fulfill obligations that effectively see them involved in back-to-back seasons - but you can understand players wanting to utilise their resources as much as possible, because a football life is a short life.

It is pretty obvious that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is eager for contract flexibility, knowing the ability to select Kane Douglas from Leinster will go a substantial way towards filling a glaring hole in the second-row. No one should ever forget that Cheika is a very powerful force at ARU HQ; he doesn't boast a close buddy-buddy relationship with ARU chief Bill Pulver, but the coach invariably gets what he wants.

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is drenched following the Super Rugby final, Reds v Crusaders, Super Rugby Final, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia, July 9, 2011
Ewen McKenzie retains many friends in Queensland after guiding the Reds to the 2011 Super Rugby title © Getty Images

Link to Queensland?

Queensland Rugby Union officials state constantly that they are standing firmly behind their struggling head coach, Richard Graham, with board chairman Rod McCall saying this week that they would not be changing their coach this season. But there is maneuvering. Our ever-reliable Queensland sources have told Ruck'n Maul that Graham will be jittery to discover that numerous influential Brisbane rugby identities, and even sponsors, continue to have a deep fascination in seeing Ewen McKenzie return to the franchise in some major capacity. McKenzie's departure from the Wallabies last year was traumatic, but he is still held in high regard by the Reds faithful after taking them to the Super Rugby title in 2011. It appears many would gleefully welcome him back as head coach.

Brian Smith is no longer a Reds coaching possibility, as he has been announced as rugby director at Scots College in Sydney, but there are still a few worried that he will again have a solid Australian base after numerous years overseas successfully coaching at various levels. Perhaps Smith one day could lure James O'Connor to Sydney, particularly as we are told the player's connections are "sniffing for opportunities" in the Harbour City. Smith and O'Connor recently joined forces at London Irish.

Players apparently threatened for having national ambitions

The organisation of Wallabies camps in the middle of the Super Rugby season is unusual and bound to ruffle some. The bulk of the Australian franchises apparently backed Cheika's training camp in Brisbane this week, but one province was a bit finicky.

Word has got out that this province's players were warned they faced the threat of being dropped for this weekend's match if they attended the camp and then missed a provincial gym session. Let's just say the players involved weren't too impressed, believing that national ambitions should override all. Then again several of those players involved do not boast the best of relationship with their provincial coach.

Foley's War

It's no surprise that Michael Foley's name continues to bob up as a potential Wallabies forwards coach. Some weeks ago, the Western Force coach took a subtle dig at the ARU by saying the board had "abdicated some of its responsibility to ensure the integrity of the [Wallabies] program" while praising Cheika at the same time. Foley, who understands international forward play, is a very crafty operator.

Club officials fire up about Rugby Link

If you want to fire up hard-working club officials around the country, just mention Rugby Link - the ARU's online competition management and registration system. You're bound to get a fruity response. Ruck'n Maul has for weeks heard endless complaints that Rugby Link is difficult to use, with the prickly situation not helped by the huge threats over Christmas period to any union that did not agree to use the system. As club competitions start all over the country, numerous officials are complaining that "the untested system comes up short". Officials have had to improvise, using Rugby Link and an old system to cover their shortcomings, which in the words of one official "leads to double the work for an inferior outcome". Rugby Link appears headed for a very short lifespan.

The Brumbies would like more eyeballs on their excellence in Canberra © Getty Images

Brumbies looking to lure fans

In a bid to improve home crowds in Canberra, the Brumbies are offering half-price tickets. The Brumbies consistently play entertaining football, but they have struggled for some years to lure Canberrans. No wonder the Brumbies are top of the list whenever there are suggestions that Australian franchises may be relocated.

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