Sport Wallabies: Former coach Bob Dwyer criticises lack of leadership ahead of ARU emergency meeting

08:16  19 june  2017
08:16  19 june  2017 Source:   MSN

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  George Smith back in Wallabies colours Champion flanker George Smith has been drafted into the Wallabies camp, but in a coaching capacity mentoring Australia's next generation of No.7s.Smith was a conspicuous observer pacing the sidelines and scribbling down notes at Wallabies training on Tuesday after "jumping at the chance" to serve as a development coach under Michael Cheika and his assistants.

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Wallabies lose to Scotland sparks calls for change© AP Image Wallabies lose to Scotland sparks calls for change Cast your mind back to 2003, a time when Australian rugby was thriving.

Off the back of a hugely successful World Cup, the Australian Rugby Union's (ARU) bank balance had just been boosted by about $40 million.

The Wallabies lost the final but won over the hearts and minds of a new generation.

The tournament was one of the biggest events Australia had seen; a national showcase with games from Launceston to Townsville and everywhere in between.

But ever since that day, the ballerina on rugby's money box has been slowing. In 2017, the music came to a painful, public halt.

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"From my point of view, the problem is simply a total lack of leadership in the game," says former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer, now president of Randwick rugby club in Sydney.

"We can't have reached the financial position we are in now if the direction our leaders were pointing us [was correct] and in recent months it's become even worse."

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The pressure is building on those running the game, with Bill Pulver going on record saying he'll step down from his role as chief executive if members call for his head during Tuesday's emergency meeting in Sydney.

It's been called by the Victorian Rugby Union to discuss the future of Australia's involvement in Super Rugby, with the Melbourne Rebels one of two teams facing the axe.

Some weeks ago, ARU chairman Cameron Clyne took no less than 22 minutes explaining the game's decision to reduce the number of Australian Super Rugby teams from five, to four.

His press conference came seven weeks after announcing the cut would be made in days.

"We have made it quite clear that we think the game is not financially sustainable. There has been a long-term trend in the decline of crowds. The game is struggling," Clyne said.

Volunteers at heart of game, says Dwyer

Dwyer, however, says rugby is far more than the game at an elite level.

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"The game is actually in fine shape. The game is not the ARU, it's not the Super Rugby teams," he said.

"It is in fact all of those that play the game and the massive volunteer base in the game, which is its biggest asset.

"This year at Coogee, we had the largest home crowd we have had since '88, when Randwick played the All Blacks.

"One of the reports that the ARU were recepient of, back in around 2013 and 2014, was that this 18-team Super Rugby competition was financially not viable- and that was totally ignored"

During his lengthy press conference, Clyne gave the sense the ARU was now powerless to complete the reduction process it had instigated.

"All I can say is that we will continue to be as diligent as possible in trying to draw it to a close," Clyne said.

"We don't control all the pieces. It is hard to say when it will end. All we can do is make ourselves available as much as possible."

Perhaps it's a sign of the underlying governance issues the game is facing, where endangered Super Rugby clubs can grapple for the handrail on the shifting deck of the Titanic.

Clyne is adamant the game will go under if change isn't made.

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"In the last four years, the Super Rugby tier of the game — we have spent $28 million over and above what we had budgeted," he said.

Dwyer agrees it's time for change but not at the cost of an elite team.

"I am of the opinion that a six or eight-team competition in Australia will work."

Struggling Australian rugby needs help

Of all the sports in Australia, rugby is unique, with the Wallabies still standing as one of Australia's favourite teams.

Yet the game's ability to invest in key areas has been stymied by propping up cash-strapped clubs in a flailing Super Rugby competition.

Interestingly Clyne himself was re-elected at April's ARU AGM — now it appears Pulver's role is in question.

With a World Cup around the corner in Japan in 2019 and fewer Tests played in Australia, the ARU is entering another challenging period.

The "spirit of rugby" is often referenced in this great game. It's never been needed more.

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