Friday Rugby News has Rob Clarke calling it quits, more bloody silence, nervous Kiwis and plenty of welcome returns.
Clarke Calls it Quits
For months we’ve heard next to nothing from the ARU, with talk about decisions behind the closed doors of the HQ in St Leonards, and whisperings and apparent disagreements running rife in the media. So, if there was any indication of what actually is happening, then yesterday we may have got a glimpse of it: the chief operating officer Rob Clarke officially tendered his resignation.
Touted as the next in line after Bill Pulver
is sacked resigns, Clarke’s removal couldn’t have come at a worse time for the governing body. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Clarke was “a central figure in the process of either the Rebels or Western Force being cut from Super Rugby as part of SANZAAR’s restructuring of the competition.”
Similarly, the ARU’s online media platform, rugby.com.au, echoed that ” Clarke had been at the forefront of a turbulent time in Australian rugby”
(quite clearly not anyone).
Before joining the ARU, Clarke had stints at both the Rebels and the Brumbies, and is well-regarded within much of the Australian rugby community. If anything, his resignation will only make matters even worse in regards to deciding which team to be cut in 2018. So really, no one is winning on this one.
Speaking of 2018…
Yep, it’s still silent. But what’s more concerning is that, with a SANZAAR meeting coming up next Wednesday (10th May) in Tokyo, there are many concerned with what exactly will be discussed in regards to the situation of cutting teams. ARU Chairman Cameron Clyne, who sat down with The Australian, said that while he wasn’t able to comment on what progress had been made on the decision of cutting a team, he argued that “what’s got lost in this entire debate is why we are here.”
“The status quo is not tenable. People are concerned about the under-investment in grassroots and they’re concerned about the declining performances of our Super Rugby teams.
“We came up with a strategy and I accept that people will criticise it, but there is no magic pudding.”
He even highlighted that a letter signed by 43 former Wallabies and former head coaches Bob Dwyer and Alan Jones (which was seen at the time as being ignored by the ARU) had actually been a major catalyst for a restructuring of the competition.
“The overwhelming feedback was that we overspent on professional rugby at the expense of grassroots. One line in particular stood out: That the ARU has invested in a national strategy as the expense of our traditional heartlands.”
Regardless, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the ARU. They are not getting out of this in one piece.
The Western Force, with backing from the Western Australian government (who poured $100 million into redeveloping NIB Stadium) have taken out a writ against the ARU, the Melbourne Rebels have also indicated they will pursue legal action if the ARU moves against them, and even SANZAAR itself could take the ARU to court if they do not meet their obligations to cut a team. Either way, the ARU has to make the call and face the music. And soon.
The Kiwis are nervous?!
Yes, they are. According to Fox Sports, New Zealanders are looking towards the British & Irish Lions tour with increasing concern, as more and more of the first choice All Blacks find themselves sidelined due to injuries sustained during the current Super Rugby campaign.
To name a few, the injured list includes: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Israel Dagg, current test captain Kieren Read, Ben Smith, Jerome Kaino and Dane Coles. Sam Whitelock, who is tipped to be the back-up skipper in the event of Read’s absence, is also out, currently facing a two match suspension for striking against the Cheetahs.
With the start of the Lions series only six weeks away, these players will be aiming to be back in peak form for the series by the time their opposition rolls into town. Warren Gatland has noted the struggles that Steve Hansen has with selections, and that he has “good cause to be concerned.”
By comparison, the Lions have had more positive news in regards to injuries, with captain Sam Warburton, scrumhalf Conor Murray and lock Alun Wyn Jones deemed fit and ready for the tour.
To put it mildly, if there is any ultimate test of the depth of New Zealand rugby, then this is it. If they win the series convincingly with a younger team, where the hell do you go from there?!
On a lighter note…
There are plenty of familiar faces making their return this weekend in Super Rugby. One big one is for the Western Force, with Wallaby Adam Coleman starting for the men from the west against the Sharks in South Africa. He was out since round 2 against the Reds, so is a much needed boost for the injury-ravaged Force.
Meanwhile, over at the Waratahs, they have had plenty of faces return for their match against the Blues in Sydney. A win would see the Tahs potentially find themselves at the top of the Aussie conference with the Brumbies
(and that’s really saying something about this year).
Tolu Latu makes his return to the bench after recovering from a shoulder injury, and Reece Robinson also returns to the wing after Taqele Naiyaravoro was ruled out with a hand injury.
However, the most notable change is the return of Jake Gordon to the starting lineup and the relegation of Nick Phipps to the bench, despite the Wallaby halfback having a pretty solid game against the Queensland Reds last week.
Finally, over at the Melbourne Rebels, young gun Harrison Goddard is set to make his debut off the bench. The Reds have named a relatively unchanged side, and the Brumbies have the bye.