Australian rugby is hungry for success, but Wallabies fans need to have realistic expectations about winning the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup this year, Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive Bill Pulver has warned.
Pulver took over at the union earlier this year and is already planning an overhaul of the structure of the game, including bringing in a third tier under Super Rugby, to provide a better “pathway” to the national team for elite players.
While “thrilled” at the appointment of coach Ewen McKenzie, Pulver believes coming out on the top in the Rugby Championship ahead of the top two teams in the world, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as the ever-improving Argentines, will be a tough task.
“Put four teams together in a world class tournament and there’s plenty to look forward to,” he said in an interview.
“We want to win it, we basically would like to win the Rugby Championships, we would like to win the Bledisloe Cup, but we’re ranked three, so you have to be realistic about expectations,” he said. “But, new coach, wonderful group of young players, everything is possible.”
Pulver is a multi-millionaire businessman who was best known before his ARU appointment because of the unfortunate 2011 incident when a fake bomb was placed around the neck of his teenaged daughter by a masked intruder at their Sydney home.
Since taking over in February, he has overseen a British and Irish Lions tour that was “wonderfully successful” in financial and marketing terms, despite the defeat on the pitch, as well as the appointment of McKenzie.
“His apprenticeship for this job was perfect,” Pulver said of McKenzie. “He coaches the way Australians like to see the game played, smart, creative running rugby. He’s been there, he’s a former Wallaby, he’s beaten the All Blacks on numerous occasions, there’s a real excitement about the new era of Australian rugby with him as coach.”
Displacing the All Blacks as the No. 1 team in the world is the Holy Grail of Australian rugby, if for no more reason than to keep interest in the game high and the cash flowing into the ARU coffers to spend on developing the game.
Pulver, who said the union’s revenue would be A$140 million (US$126.78 million) this year on the back of the Lions tour, believes the governing body must do more to produce more top players.
“It’s about finding the right strategy for developing elite talent,” he said. “Our competition structures are not robust enough, our pathways are not robust enough, so there’s a lot of strategic thought being put into developing the right strategies.”
“Front and center” to those thoughts are the development of a new third tier of rugby in Australia to match South Africa’s highly successful Currie Cup and the equally productive National Provincial Championship in New Zealand.
Australia faces a decision between building up from the traditional club structure or developing down from the five Super Rugby teams.
“There’s a lot of merit in both. What you want is accelerated talent directly into Super Rugby and give exposure to young talent more quickly, but you also want to re-energize club rugby. Club rugby is a very important pillar of the rugby process in Australia and that’s equally important,” Pulver said.
A document looking at the options will be presented to the ARU board later this month and although Pulver would like it to be in place for next year, he thought it more important “to get it right.”
The last attempt to bridge the gap between Super and club rugby, the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC), lasted just one season in 2007 before being ditched.
Along with the new tier are ambitious plans for growing the grassroots of the game, using sevens to attract youngsters and particularly targeting women.
Pulver said he had been concerned by reports that some of the elite independent schools in North Sydney, the bedrock of rugby union in Australia for a century or more, have been turning to the local Australian Rules code.
“I do worry, we operate in the world’s most competitive winter sports market, and our competitors are well-funded and well-run,” said Pulver, who attended one such school himself. “So we need to fight back with the appropriate strategies, but rugby is a very special game. Played well, there is no better game. Our opportunity is to focus on our own patch and if we get it right, believe me, the fans will support us in a big way.”
‘CRIMINAL ACT’: The UCI said it ‘strongly condemns’ Dylan Groenewegen’s ‘dangerous behavior,’ which left Jakobsen in critical condition and injured other cyclists Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was in a coma on Wednesday, in “serious” condition, after he was thrown into and over a barrier at 80kph in the conclusion to the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne. Footage showed 23-year-old Jakobsen, of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step, racing elbow-to-elbow with fellow Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma as both men frantically tussled in a tight sprint to the line in Katowice. However, Jakobsen came off worst, somersaulting over the barriers before colliding with a photographer after Groenewegen had veered suddenly to the right, squeezing his rival into the security wall. “His condition is very serious. His life is
WEEKEND MATCHES: While Tatung FC made good on their chances early on, Taiwan Steel rallied to win the game 2-3 and move to the top with Taichung Futuro Sunday’s action saw Taichung Futuro, Taipower FC and Taiwan Steel tied for first place on 30 points in the Taiwan Football Premier League, while Hang Yuan FC picked up a point to take the No. 4 spot on 25 points after holding Taipower to a scoreless draw. In Taoyuan, Tatung FC hosted Taiwan Steel. It was an exciting matchup, as the visitors rallied from 2-0 down to take the game with three goals. Tatung made good on their chances early on. Honduran midfielder Elias Argueta opened the account 15 minutes into the game with a low shot from the right. Three minutes
Ronnie O’Sullivan delivered a scathing attack on the next generation of snooker players after he made the quarter-finals of the World Snooker Championship on Sunday, ending Chinese star Ding Junhui’s world championship dream. The mercurial 44-year-old Englishman won an enthralling high-quality second-round encounter 13-10 to set up a quarter-final clash with three-time champion Mark Williams. When asked by the BBC whether he thought he would remain at the top of the game for this long, the Briton, who turned professional in 1992, said the poor quality of younger players had secured his position and that something drastic would have to happen
Max Verstappen informed his Red Bull team that he would not be driving “like a grandma” in Formula One’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on Sunday — and he was as good as his word. The Dutch 22-year-old seized his opportunity at Silverstone, ending dominant Mercedes’ run of four successive wins this season and moving up to second place overall, 30 points behind leader Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen’s confidence shone through early on, after slotting into third place behind the two Mercedes, when he was told by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to take care of his tires. “Mate, this is the only chance of being