Tony Dempsey and RUPA block John O'Neills ARU plans of Wallabies pre-tour trial match

There will be blood: Wallaby trial scratched

There will be blood: Wallaby trial scratched

Heard about the scuppered pre-tour trial match? In short, the ARU and Dingo Deans wanted a Possibles vs Probables trial (under lights at the SFS or North Sydney) to help decide the peggings of who goes on the Grand Slam tour this year.

No doubt it would have also generated more cash and RUPA wanted a slice of it – an extra $2500 for each of the 44 players involved to be precise, on top of what they already earn. The ARU wouldn’t swallow it and when RUPA wouldn’t back down either, the whole idea got canned. (You can read Grumbles Growden’s full exposé here).

At the bottom of this post is a letter from a reader that I think summarises the sentiment of a lot of Wallabies fans on the issue (if our forum is anything to go by). I’ll confess that with what I had to endure last Saturday, it captures many of my emotions on the subject as well.

But first, some juicy and important background. What everyone should realise is that this situation is no doubt the latest round in one of the most bitter bloodfeuds going in Australian rugby; that between John O’Neil and Tony Dempsey, head honchos of the ARU and RUPA respectively.

JO’N and Demmo have never got along, and it’s personal. JO’N’s the corporate ex-banker (from Joeys), Demmo the jock ex-Wallaby (from Riverview). It started in the late 90’s when the original player agreement was hammered out, and went totally doolally in 2003 when RUPA tried to hold the ARU nuts to the fire just before RWC 2003, by co-ordinating a player strike over the bonuses on offer through the tournament.

The two met in Demmo’s office in June 2003 to hammer a deal out. But to kick things off, the RUPA chief outlined a plan to form a new international rugby scheme where as chief exec of IRPA (the International Rugby Players Association) Demmo would be the representative of all international players to the IRB, relegating the ARU and other national bodies to fartcatchers.

What happens next is reported in O’Neil’s autobiography It’s Only A Game:

….it was time he was told the truth.

“You will not be rising to that station in life,” I said. “You are, Tony, where you are”

The situation exploded. All of my resentment toward him came tumbling out – and likewise him at me.  Poor Peter Friend and a colleague of Dempsey’s….had to calm us down. Then, just as there was silence, I said under my breath but loud enough for Dempsey to hear, “You’re a low life.” Tony made a move across the table toward me and had to be restrained.

So, imagine six years later when the ARU want to put on an unscheduled trial match; an irresistible chance for the pair to get back in the ring. Who’ll win this round? It’s looking like another KO to the professor of rat cunning to me. Especially if the email below from Doug H (Sandpit Fan) is anything to go by. He’s already sent it to RUPA.

I don’t usually feel moved to write letters about issues, however after reading Greg Growden’s article of Sept 22 titled “Wallabies scupper tour trial over $2500” I am so disgusted with the unmitigated, overwhelming greed of RUPA and “several senior wallabies” that I have to say something before I burn my wallaby supporters gear and go see what the NRL have to offer.

There have been plenty of low acts in recent Australian rugby history, from both the ARU and RUPA but this one takes the biscuit by a long margin.  There is obviously no need to analyse our loss in Wellington on the weekend any further – it’s because the wallabies are playing for a cheque and couldn’t give a rats arse about winning or not (they still get paid, plus trouser $11,000 a test just for running onto the field and turning in the sort of performance a schoolboy 1st XV would be ashamed of), and the kiwis are playing for pride in the jersey and the honour of representing their country on the rugby field, and as a bonus they get paid well to do it.

Old fashioned stuff I know, but that’s rugby for you, at least in NZ and South Africa, if not in Australia any more.  You fellers, and those you represent seem so intent on burying the old snout in the trough that y’all have lost sight of why a team run onto a rugby field – it’s to win games, or if you can’t win, give everything trying.

No one denies that the move to professional rugby has been a success, and players certainly deserve to be paid commensurate with their abilities – I have no argument with that.  In general I think RUPA has been a benefit to the game, but there has to be a middle ground.  If this is the way things are going, you may as well wind it up, as there will be no supporters left to buy tickets.  Not that it really matters I suppose, going to a test in Sydney is like being in an NZ stadium anyhow!

For the good of Australian rugby, the so called senior wallabies (in fact any wallaby player) who were part of this obscene demand should be dropped so fast their heads spin, and replaced with players who actually want to play rugby for Australia and will get out there and have a crack.  Blokes with some heart, some pride in the jersey and a burning desire to be a wallaby.  In other words, not the guys who are only there to pick up a cheque, and have shown by this latest demand that they have hearts the size of a pea.  Then it won’t be quite so disappointing when they lose, because at least it will be obvious they are having a go.

The squad that just lost 5 out of 6 TN matches should be lining up to play these sort of trials as part of their job description.  It’s a sad day when it seems the Australian rugby team puts their hip pocket before their team, and effectively asks for a bonus to do their job.  Sounds like something the CFMEU would be proud to take on board, but I don’t think even they would be so brazen as this.  After last weeks performance any wallaby player with a conscience should be handing back his match payment, not sticking his hand out for more.

I played at school, and can still remember sitting up at midnight in 1984 when we pulled off the grand slam.   After this, I can assure you I won’t be bothering to watch or even listen to the results for this years grand slam tour.  When the team and the players association obviously doesn’t care about the results, just whether the cheques in the bank at the end of the month, it’s obvious that supporters shouldn’t care about the team either.

Doug H

I can tell you for sure the biggest loser  – Aussie Rugby. As usual.

  • Ok Ok . . .are we trying to grow rugby?

    Both Tony Dempsey & John O’Neill are to blame here. This would be a great way to showcase rugby, players and provide an incentive to play – a tour!

    So Demo & JO’N put aside your personal differences and think about the future of the game.

    Honestly, the way we are going, both of you could be out of a job within 10 years!

  • Robson

    I knew that there was a terrible malaise in Australian rugby. Now I know what it is.

    Who are these senior WB players? Are we sure that RUPA is not just pulling this line about “senior players” to add some starch to their claim?

    I thought the WBs performance on Saturday was appalling, but I would be aghast if any of them had the gall to hold their hands out for more cash after such a gormless capitulation.

    This story needs to be checked out at the deepest level.

    • Ozrugbynut

      If we want to see some investigation, please everybody email RUPA and ARU with your thoughts.

      • Biffo

        Absolutely. Track down the leaders of this appalling stunt and sack them. This is a far worse offence than anything Tuqiri might have done.

        • happy hooker

          What a joke – drop the ‘senior players’ putting their hands out… as if they dont all earn enough as it is – perhaps some time digging ditches or behind a computer for 12hrs a day might bring them into the realm of what everyone else would call…well, real life, where money doesn’t grow on trees, and people have a Job. No Stirling, that’s Job, J for Japan, O for Offer, B for Bank. Picture this Friday afternoon, Hi boss how are you? I didn’t have the best week, actually year, I lost you probably $100 grand or so, but you know what, I think I deserve more, we’re all friends right.
          I know, I know there is some sort of recession going on and other guys are losing their jobs, but I reckon I AM worth it, carn wuddya say.

          Perhaps the next ARU CEO should be Chris Corrigan…

  • Eddo

    Pitch forks and flaming torches..

    Australian Rugby needs a good old fashioned revolution. From top to bottom in the professional circle there is rot of every kind.

    Burn the House down and build it again.

    • Bobas

      Larkham could do it in three days.

  • I wish I could say I’m following this with amusement and my All Blacks eyepatch firmly on board, but to be honest I feel sorry for you guys.
    Probables v Possibles matches were awesome, and a chance to tell the media to GTFO and STFU in the past, but in today’s politically-driven game in Oz, you’re missing a great opportunity.
    It makes me wonder if the situation would repeat in NZ and every time all I can think of is no. Is Demmo representing his players, or himself? Over here I have no doubt the players would put the jersey and coaches interests before money and politics.

  • Epi

    Can you add the following option on the poll.

    ARU, RUPA and the Players.

    Thats the option I’d choose.

    Mad as hell…

  • Ozrugbynut

    Un-f*cking Australian.


  • Wolfman

    Think back Australia, this same thing happened at the Brumbies when they got rid of Niciforia as coach, and I bet it’s the same Senior Players driving this outlandish demand. Time the ARU ripped up the contracts of these cretans and put players in there who want to play for the country and not the almighty dollar. You have 2 years to turn this around before the next world cup, and have the coach to do it. Make sure in the new players contracts that they are banned from joining the RUPA, you will then see who wants to play for the country or who wants to play just for the money. Dempsey is an absolute fruit case.

  • For the sake of rugby union in Australia, I do hope things get better.

    I’m looking forward to watch Jarred Hayne and the eels this weekend take on my favorite team in the NRL, the Canterbury Bulldogs.

    Go the Doggies….

  • Cheezel

    Doug H pretty much nailed the sentiments of everyone in his letter.

    If any of the players truly had something to do with this, it’s disgraceful.

    • Patrick

      I agree too. Any player who was involved in this should be fucken sacked now. Even if it is Gits and Smith.

      • JR

        I completely agree.

        GGR guys, I love reading the site. Grumbles, Spiro and Wayne were all I had until I stumbled this way via Crikey and it’s been great to read some alternative commentary.

        But I’m done. Australian Rugby you’ve lost this supporter.

        • Boomer

          Hear, hear.

          Cretinous behaviour that shows a hide thicker than a rhino’s.

          I want heads to roll.

          The on-field performances from province to Wallabies have been dire and the Union is in obvious disarray off it.

          A complete spill is required.

  • Aussie D

    The other losers out of this are the NSWRU who have to pay $150k back to its season ticket holders as they were promised this match as part of the package (originally it was apparently an Oz A game but that program was scratched).
    Also, maybe the “senior Wallabies” were scared of being shown up by hungrier lesser lights keen on representing their nation.

    • Ed

      I reckon there may be some truth to your second point.

      Why would anyone want to give their competition an edge.

  • Sandpit Fan

    Just got a spin doctor crafted response from RUPA. Buried in the reams of self justifying bullshit is this gem, which tells us all we need to know (if there was any doubt) about the contempt that RUPA and the wallaby group have for Australian Rugby supporters..

    7. In August the RUPA, on behalf of the Wallaby group, conveyed to the ARU that if the game proposed was to be played at the SFS to ensure the NSWRU fulfilled its obligations to its members and therefore generate revenue then it was only reasonable the players be paid the usual fee for a similar Australia A type match – $2,500. If on the other hand the purpose of the match was solely to be used in preparation for the All Blacks match and for fringe selection purposes then the Wallabies would of course be happy to play the game at a local suburban park without request for a match fee;

    News flash boys – No supporters left means no contributions to your pay packet from gate takings etc.

    Here’s another ripper from the same email that had me rolling around laughing:
    Tony Dempsey Chief Executive Officer of the RUPA said:
    “It is easy for someone to suggest there are cracks within the player framework. Worse still it is easy to infer the players are money focused. A more challenging, difficult and yet constructive task is to provide positive solutions to the Wallabies recent lack of form against the All Blacks.

    Mate, it’s easy to infer because it’s the blindly obvious truth…

    • Karen Morris

      Couldn’t agree more. Over the last 7 years I have watched supporter numbers dwindle to only being able to fill half the stadium at S14 games and, what’s the world coming to when they’re still advertising tickets to the Bledisloe in the week leading up to the match. There was a time when they were gold and you were lucky to get a ticket the day they were released.

      The ARU & RUPA need to sit up and take note of the fans that they are losing consistently year after year and start bringing the game back to the community that has always been there to support them.

      Politics and internal wrangling is destroying the game and what it stands for. The players no longer seem to be engouraged to play for the passion. If they were they’d by like the AB’s who pulled an amazing victory and thrashing out of the bag when they looked all but done for before the game on Saturday. That’s what you can achieve when your heart’s full when you pull on the jersey, rather than your wallet.

      Cut the red tape, cut the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude and then everyone will get a bigger slice of a bigger pie in the end, including the fans who’ll enjoy watching their heroes again.

  • Hmmm, I’m not sure about all this chat.

    Let’s think rationally here – there will always be a possibles vs probables match, likely now in a training session behind closed doors.

    This happens before every tour.

    The difference in this situation is that the ARU wants to make an absolute shitload of money from it. And the players aren’t happy being raped by the ARU.

    Not giving the players a cut just doesn’t seem right to me (unless this was already written into their contracts).

    Solution? Guarantee that every cent of profit is pumped into regional and junior rugby. Players donate their time as part of the promotion.

    The ARU supports grassroots rugby, satisfies the supporters (we can’t lose!) and the coaches will still be able to get a higher intensity game from the players due to all the support. Imagine a 120min game of rugby!

    I reckon also get rid of Dempsey, or take him out of the negotiating frame. He seems to act like a clown on so many issues, with his ego writing cheques the players and rugby in Aust can’t cash.

    • Solution? Guarantee that every cent of profit is pumped into regional and junior rugby. Players donate their time as part of the promotion.

      SB – isn’t that what the ARU does? That’s exactly where all the profit they’d ‘make’ from the trial match would go.

      I can see the players point, but in a financial climate where we can’t afford Australia A, and when they’ve just given up in a test match (as admitted by the coach) this isn’t a good time to be sticking your hand out.

      • Agree, it’s prob not the best time to be putting the hand out, but the players are right to feel pissed off if the ARU wants to make more money off them outside their contract.

        Even so, as I tried to get across above, the players need to recognize the ill feeling around this and donate their time. It’s an issue of politics and PR.

        The ARU and RUPA are dirtying both their reputations with this – that’s why I suggested the ARU guarantee the money is pumped back into the grass roots (even if they fully intended to, it’d be advantageous being transparent about where the money goes…perhaps a percentage to each player’s junior club, whatever), and they engage the players by letting them get a bit of credit for being used as a tool to make the ARU money. Good for everyone involved.

        • wannabprop

          well said. perception is everything.

        • Ozrugbynut

          I am not opposed to players being fairly remunerated at all and players obviously need representation in pay negotiations with the ARU.

          I believe that players should be entitled to remuneration for games for commercial gain (Australian Barbarians game)- it is the professional era – but rather than forgo a mere $2500 (peanuts!), thereby lining the coffers of the NSWRU/Regional clubs and the ARU who develop the game, the players stuck their hand out.

          Lets not forget that several years ago the ARU was dealing with the significant financial hole created by the ARC running over budget. If we don’t have a strong ARU and regional unions then rugby in this country has a bleak future.

          If senior Wallabies feel they are being driven too hard to working outside their contract, this may be the case!Lets not forget rugby is battling 3 other football codes for share of wallet and that we compete against bigger, better resourced unions.

          It shows a lack of perspective and of gratitude to the game which has provided them an income and frankly, just smacks of greed. I don’t know how else to interpret this. Just $2500 out of the entire remuneration package of a senior Wallaby.

          I sincerely doubt this would occurr in NZ and SA to the same extent.

        • Davey

          What’s wrong with keeping NSW supporters happy by playing a match at the SFS?

          Remember these are MEMBERS, people who shell out money at the start of the year for season passes. Season members are ESSENTIAL for any sports organisation as they are a wonderful source of cash flow. Cheat them out of a game this year and they may not be back next, then who pays the bills (including the player’s salaries)?

  • dave

    I don’t know much about Dempsey. Only that that O’neil et all were miffed the players unionised for their self interests and didn’t want them to have a seat at the table.
    O’neil seems to me to be a most combative and ego centrically driven individual. I forget where but I remember someone on the inside reckons he perfumes his balls.
    He was ratted out after delivering a world cup by his colleagues. I would suggest because of those balls been fragrented in an unmanly fashion. Thus the call from Frank to run Soccer/Football where perfume and body talc is celebrated. O’neil then leaves Soccer Aust because he just can’t cop having his balls squeezed and perfumed with his hands tied
    Then he comes back triumphant as a master administrator and is welcomed back with forced love into the Rugby fold.
    O’neil thinks that he can run the ARU as his own plaything. It would not surprise me to find the footballs used throughout Australia are indeed perfumed.

  • K Dog

    Please can I sign up to be a Wallaby. I am a 50yr old has been. But have more pride in Wallaby jersey than some that took the field in Wellington. Hell you won’t even have to pay me. And i will pay for my own ticket to play anywhere in the world if I am needed.

    I think this RUPA saga stinks.

    How disappointed am I as a Wallaby supporter. I Felt gutted watching the Wellington game just like I felt when they lost to the Boks last year…. after a hard fought win in Durban.

    This Wallaby team needs to take a serious hard look at themselves…..

  • Who Needs Melon

    I’ve never seen such overwhelming agreement on all the rugby blogs. I wish there were more we could do about it.

    • Biffo

      Petition the ARU to find and sack those responsible?

      Buy the Wallabies mirrors?

      Shave all their heads?

  • Rocky Elboa

    Lets make this simple, play the game at North Sydney Oval or SFS, everyone who can produce a ticket from a game this year gets in free. All money made from TV rights goes to one of the charities RUPA like to go on about. No match payment and if you don’t play (unless injured) then you don’t go on tour

  • CanadianRugby

    Actually, I’m with Scrumblue on this. I think the only thing that has really happened here is John O’Neil has won a PR battle. Alright, Tony Dempsey is clearly a moron. However, John O’Neil is a snake and Greg Growden is nothing but a self-righteous ass-hole who loves nothing better than to rip on players who do more work than he does and generally are just better people than him.

    Alright, I know some people are probably a little pissed at me, but please, just give me a minute to put forward my argument.

    There is no doubt that this was awful timing for the Players. That sad performance in Wellington was actually probably the excuse that John O’Neil needed to release this info to the public about how the Wallaby players had sunk the trial match blah blah blah. Let’s put this a different way. How about a SMH headline that read “Match abandoned after ARU demands players play for free.” I believe, and hope, that the outrage would be redirected toward the ARU. This would be EXACTLY the same as your boss asking you staying all weekend to work without any extra pay. You would expect to be compensated. The players have every right to expect the same thing.

    Someone earlier said that this is partly John O’Neil’s fault as well as Dempsey’s. I agree. This is a man who just cut Tuqiri lose (under very shady circumstances), almost let Digby go and clearly has no problem throwing players away as soon as they no longer suit him. Going back to the real work analogy, if you had a boss to was known for firing people without any sense of remorse, you’d be a lot less friendly toward being told you had to work harder to earn him some more money in your spare time while you worked for free.

    Finally, this is these players’ job. I know, its a sweet job we would all love to have and they should be thankful to have it. However, its also a VERY short career. 10 years if you are lucky. If they get hurt it can be over much sooner. these guys also give up their match fees for charity causes. they aren’t afraid to play for free for good causes (remember they gave up their match fees to help victims of the bush fires, which was actually a lot of money, if I remember).

    So, I’m totally on the players side, mostly because I sympathize with them much more than a back-stabbing banker and a fat, bitter newspaper columnist. Plus, I’m not totally convinced the money earned from that match would have gone to grass-roots rugby instead of, say, John O’Neil next manicure. Suck it up ARU, pay them the money, you can afford it.

    • Robson

      Mmmmmm, this dispute seems to have historical roots. After the debacle which was the final TN test last Saturday I wonder what the Wallabies are thinking now.

      I would like to hear from some of the senior players themselves not their self serving, greedy, power hungry union or John O’Neill or Greg Crowden or any other rugby journalist.

      Step forward George Smith, Berrick Barnes, Matt Giteau, Rocky Elsom et al and tell us what YOU think about it.

      • Ozrugbynut

        Surely our showing in this year’s TN should result in all stakeholders having a good think about where Australan rugby is headed.

        Candid roundtable talks would be a good start, although I doubt the ARU or RUPA would see the urgency..

        We’ll just continue to let the BS snowball and drop out in the quarter finals of the RWC again…

    • Ozrugbynut

      “This would be EXACTLY the same as your boss asking you staying all weekend to work without any extra pay. ”

      This is a classic employee-employer relations scenario, but in the modern era, in any private sector business, if you’re earning triple figure salaries++ you are EXPECTED to work back, put in and sacrifice a little. If this is the professional era, what professionalism has been shown here? Are they committed to the game or just their pay checks? What the players (and of course the ARU) may not realise is the damage their squabbling over remuneration is doing to the game and to fans.

      Now I don’t disagree that Mr O’Neill and the ARU can and have played hardball, particularly over the Tuqiri issue (which I would imagine have left many senior players seething), but as the ARU should be rational, so should the players.

      Sure, employee power and employee power will ebb and flow, but it has gone too far in this case. These players are (rightly) paid well, but are squabbling over $2500. It is clear from this untimely and dissappointing episode that there is a major rift between employers/employees and a breakdown in trust.

      It needs to be sorted out FAST for the good of the game in this country.

      • CanadianRugby

        It’s true that if you are being paid well you are expected to work harder, for example over weekends etc…I just don’t see why the players are expected to stand aside and work for free while the NSWRU and the ARU earn more money.

        How about John O’Neil work for free? Did he cut his salary to help the ARU out with the economic downturn? Somehow I doubt it.

        • Last time I checked the ARU and NSWRU were non-profit organisations whose surplusses went in to bettering Australian rugby. You can argue with how they do it, but there are no shareholders or a rich arsehole making money out of all of this.

          As for pay cuts – yes he and they did, which you can see here

        • CanadianRugby


          Fair enough. I actually didn’t know that the Unions were non-profit. I hope that money does go the lower levels of rugby.

          I’m shocked John O’Neil took a pay cut, but obviously he did.

          I still maintain, however, that if the Unions are making money from a game, the players are entitled to some.

        • Lindommer

          Last year JON took a pay cut for the good of the game due to the GFC. It was well reported in the press.

        • Ozrugbynut

          As not for profit organisations, whose sole purpose is to develop the game, its not like the funds would end up in the pockets of NSWRU and ARU staff as a bonus.

          The point is players should have forgone the small $2500 fee, allowing the game to go ahead.

          It seems the ARU didn’t expect them to ask for a fee, as negotiations stalled quickly after that in August.

          Bad blood over the Tuqiri issue???

        • Sandpit Fan


          They aren’t working for free – all of these guys get paid well regardless of whether they pick up match fees or not, and fair enough, the players deserve to be paid to play. No one want to go back to the bad old days when players needed to hold a real job and fit it around rugby.

          If you want to compare it with a normal employer-employee relationship, how about taking the normal business view that workers are paid a salary to do their job, and the employer makes a bit of money after covering the wage bill from selling their services or the goods they produce. If the employer makes a tidy profit, then good on him, and he can if he wishes share that out with employees as a bonus (or a match fee in this case). The decision on that match fee is entirely up to the employer – it’s not the place of the employees to say “we’re not making widgets anymore unless you give us a bonus”. Any employer with any sense would get rid of them and hire people who want the job.

          These guys are paid to play rugby – end of story. If the ARU wants to give them a match payment for tests, all the better for them. Asking them to do their job is not unreasonable, and that’s what this comes down to. It’s the job of the ARU & the state unions to earn money to plow back into the game, and these guys would have all benefited from money spent in junior rugby over the years. To now say stuff you, we want a cut of the proceeds on top of our salary or we aren’t playing is just.. words fail me.

          I have to think the majority of this comes from RUPA, unfortunately Dempsey seems to embody the worst of the old geordie trade unionist caricature – screw them into the ground and when that company goes bust, look for the next victim. As I’ve said before O’Neill isn’t blameless here either, but scoring a PR win against this sort of opposition is like clubbing baby seals (to give it a canadian flavour eh!). By the look of some of the comments they have up at, there are a few developments to come.

  • I would love to see more possibles VS probables trial games. I think the last one I saw was the All Black one in 2005, I think. I remember the last Springbok one, Brent Russell burst onto the scene from absolute obscurity, scoring 7 tries or something absolutely childish along those lines. It’s good for the game

    • CanadianRugby

      Good point as well. Even in Canada I saw that game in 2005. Everyone played their butts off, lots of running, fans going crazy just because it was fun to watch. Great stuff.

  • JT

    Would uncontracted “possibles” have gotten a match fee? Either way, it seems the decision to can the match has robbed the amateur hopefuls of either a big pay cheque or a mightily exciting match. Deans spoke of promoting a few club players, and those guys who work normal jobs and play locally (or even fringe S14 players) seem the big losers here.

    • Mark

      Yep. The biggest loosers are the good club rugby players and the up and coming players who have missed out on their opportunity to to show what they can do and to push for higher honours.

  • Lofty Lineout

    I think the whole argument about the proposed trial shows that we have some of the biggest boofheads both on and off the field. Its a wonder they can have jumpers made to get over their ego inflated heads.
    Surely the players want to start winning and the best way to do that is to put the best team/combination on the paddock.There must be some very worried players who know they have not been putting in.

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