George Gregan owes rugby fans an apology

Spiro Zavos Columnist

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    George Gregan is the most radical appointment to the ARU board in the last decade. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

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    On the face of it, George Gregan is a splendid addition as the players’ representative on the ARU board. But this is only a part of the story about the appointment. The bright side. There is a dark side as well that needs to be confronted.

    Gregan is the most capped player in the history of international rugby, with 139 Tests played. He is arguably Australia’s most charismatic player in the professional era.

    He was the gifted halfback who help to mastermind the Wallabies wonderful triumph in the 1999 Rugby World Cup tournament. There were the Super Rugby triumphs, too, of the ACT Brumbies.

    In their golden era they were the best provincial side in the world, and far and away the smartest.

    And then there is the iconic moment of ‘Gregan’s Tackle’ on Jeff Wilson which saved a Test for the Wallabies against the All Blacks at the Sydney Football Stadium in the first night Test played by the two rivals.

    This tackle is now part of the folklore of Australian rugby, along with Topo Rodiquez’s masssive hit on Hika Reid at Eden Park in the third Test of the 1986 Bledisloe Cup series that was won by Alan Jones’ Wallabies.

    Since Gregan finished up with the Wallabies, he has played rugby in Japan and has created a successful business with a coffee shop franchise.

    In his story of the Gregan appointment to the ARU, joining three other Wallabies in John Eales, Brett Robinson and Michael Hawker, the constant apologist for ‘player power’, The Australian‘s Wayne Smith suggests that the CEO of the ARU, John O’Neill needs to “brace himself for a revival of the Georgian era.”

    This brings us to the dark side of the Gregan appointment.

    Gregan was one of the ring leaders, along with the then Wallaby captain Phil Kearns, the All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick and Zinzan Brooke, and the Springboks captain Francois Pienaar in trying to take the game away from the IRB, the ARU, the NZRU and the SARU.

    I was at the Sydney Test between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in 1995 after the Rugby World Cup tournament, when Kearns made his disquieting speech to the fans asking them to understand why the players were going down a path that seemed difficult for fans to understand.

    I stood with Sir Brian Lochore, the manager of the All Blacks, an icon of the game. He looked across the field and in the saddest of voices wondered out loud if he and the rest of us had watched our last Bledisloe Cup Test.

    An hour or so later the All Blacks, with the exception of Jonah Lomu, Jeff Wilson and Josh Kronfeld, signed contracts to play in a rugby circus being promoted by Kerry Packer.

    Packer was furious with the Murdochs for their Super League play. The Murdochs were putting together a Super Rugby package (the Super 12) to provide more sports content for their pay television company, Fox Sports.

    After the All Blacks signed up, they attended a special Bledisloe Cup dinner which hosted captains from all the eras. It was one of the most distressing nights I have ever experienced. I noticed Kronfeld wandering around, as if he’d been hit by a baseball bat. None of the other All Blacks would even talk to him.

    A number of the captains told me that they had spoken to many of the players in an attempt to talk them out of their rebellion. One captain, an erudite gentleman, was so upset by the intransigence of the players he told me that they were as immovable as “shit on a blanket.”

    Sources told me that Kearns and Gregan and others put tremendous pressure on younger players in the Wallabies to go along with them. Eales was not allowed into meetings with the team. This great man, on and off the field, was derided as ‘old yellow back.’

    This week Jock Hobbs was given a hero’s funeral in Wellington. Hobbs was the NZRU man who had to travel up and down New Zealand trying to sign players up for the Super 12 tournament. The hostility of senior All Blacks was immense. Brooke threatened to smash Wilson in a ruck if they ever played against each other again.

    Hobbs was described by the Eales equivalent in NZ rugby, Richie McCaw as “the man who saved New Zealand rugby.” It is the contention of many who knew him that the effort severely damaged Hobbs health.

    In New Zealand the wounds were healed by Fitzpatrick leaving the country and rebels like Brooke being given no role to play in New Zealand rugby. The players union has worked with the NZRU in the interests of all the stakeholders in the game there.

    But this did not happen in Australia. RUPA, the players union, especially when Tony Dempsey was in charge, was active in trying to undermine the authority of the ARU, and especially the leadership of O’Neill. Gregan has been an active ringleader in all these attempts at destabilisation.

    Given all this history, I would argue George Gregan owes an apology to rugby fans before he takes a seat on a board he tried to put into oblivion.

    He and his mates tried to destroy the history, traditions and dreams of a great game. They were thwarted in this greedy enterprise. Since 1996 Gregan and his mates have flourished in the professional game they tried to destroy.

    If George Gregan wants to have any credibility in his new role as game-keeper, he needs to apologise for his past history as a poacher.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (97)

    • March 21st 2012 @ 7:21am
      brendon said | March 21st 2012 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Move on, the apology wouldn’t help anyone but those that are stuck in the past. Time to let it go and embrace what he can do in the future. Many roarers complain of not having enough foresight to create a financially sustainable and competitive game in australia and with articles such as these, its no wonder why. Move on…..

      • March 21st 2012 @ 8:39am
        sheek said | March 21st 2012 @ 8:39am | ! Report

        Wow Brendon,

        If only life were so simple……….

      • March 21st 2012 @ 9:07am
        Ben S said | March 21st 2012 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        Well said, brendon.

      • January 11th 2013 @ 1:03am
        dallas said | January 11th 2013 @ 1:03am | ! Report

        i agree,move on.they just wanted to get what they deserve,after all there the ones who entertain us,there the the ones who put there bodies on the line so we could enjoy it week in week out…years in years out…George Gregan owes nobody an apology,he deserves nothing but high praises,hes given me memory that i will share with my grandchildren,me being kiwi and a staunch ALL BLACK supporter, just had to admire the way he played the game,only time i didnt like him was when he played the ALL BLACKS,i could go on and on about this great player but i know one thing for sure,,,he’s one of if not the best halfback of all time,very few players have done what he has done in rugby career.Kia Kaha Mr George Gregan,thanks for the memories..Dallas Watene.

    • March 21st 2012 @ 7:35am
      Blame Gregan said | March 21st 2012 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Sounds like typical gregan hating from another “expert”
      “Sources told me that Kearns and Gregan and others put tremendous pressure on younger players in the Wallabies to go along with them.”
      Gerorge Gregan was 22 in 1995 and only in his second year of test rugby, who where the younger players?

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2012 @ 8:28am
        The Cattery said | March 21st 2012 @ 8:28am | ! Report

        This is the one anomaly I too spotted in the story – Gregan was so young back in 1995 – and it’s not as if he was one of the more influential players at the time – surely he was more a follower than a leader?

        Why do we place these unrealistic expectations on sportsmen aged 19-23, when their brains are barely developed and they are still maturing.

    • March 21st 2012 @ 7:47am
      mania said | March 21st 2012 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      agree brendon – fans dont care or want an apology

    • March 21st 2012 @ 7:54am
      A1 said | March 21st 2012 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      I’m a rugby fan. And I don’t want an apology. Don’t speak for me. Let it go,

      • March 21st 2012 @ 5:49pm
        peterlala said | March 21st 2012 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

        Even after reading the story, I still don’t know what he has to apologise for? He used to be a poacher? He made Sir Brian Lochore cry? John Eales is actually Ritchie McCaw but he got locked out by Josh Kronfeld?

    • March 21st 2012 @ 7:59am
      chuck said | March 21st 2012 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Spiro Player power has always been in the BRUMBIES make up over the past and its still there yes he made a goose of himself trying
      to pilfer players to join the circus as it has turned out Apology maybe but lets move on .

    • March 21st 2012 @ 8:02am
      crashy said | March 21st 2012 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      How about the ARU apologises to us for losing the $15 war chest earnt after the RWC in 2003? How about the ARU apologises for allowing so many of our players to go across to league?

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