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Senior changes a reason for optimism in Australian rugby

Will Knight Columnist

By Will Knight, Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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120 Have your say

    When David Pocock isn’t winning games single-handedly for the Brumbies next year, he’ll be saving the Tasmanian devil, shutting down the Adani mine or acting as a celebrant at same-sex marriages.

    He could probably tear down Allianz and ANZ stadiums, design new carbon-neutral venues and build ‘em with his own hands.

    Who knows what his limits are – if any – but Pocock’s return from his overseas sabbatical can’t come soon enough. He’s the hardened character best placed to lift a battered Wallabies.

    His presence back in Australia – well before the Super Rugby season even starts – will be enough to garner confidence that better days are ahead. Hopefully he’s coming into his best years.

    David Pocock

    (Photo: AFP)

    Kurtley Beale will be in a Waratahs jersey again and Will Genia has swapped Paris for Melbourne. A rested Israel Folau will be itching for a big year.

    Will Samu Kerevi become that consistent top-tier midfielder that he’s shown glimpses of becoming over the past 12 months?

    Jordan Uelese, Lukhan Tui, Jack Dempsey, Taniela Tupou, Isi Naisarani, Adam Korczyk, Jack Maddocks, Tom Banks and Rob Valetini are all bright Super Rugby prospects. Christian Lealiifano’s full-time return to the Brumbies after battling leukaemia last year will be uplifting.

    There have been plenty of player movements – there always is – but more so than normal over the past three months after the Western Force’s axing led to their squad being sold off to the eastern states.

    But perhaps the most intriguing and influential changes in Australian rugby over the last four months have been in some of the senior non-playing leadership roles. The year from hell demanded new faces and a fresh perspective.

    Brad Thorn, Dave Wessels, Dan McKellar and Raelene Castle are the three men and a lady that will play a big part in shaping Australia’s planned revival in 2018.

    Daryl Gibson at the Waratahs was the only coaching survivor from last season’s tumultuous Super Rugby season. Five teams flopped and the Force paid dearly – although the Rebels swiftly picked up Wessels from the Perth club.

    Gibson lived to fight another day, but in the final year of his contract, will need a flying start to have any chance of re-signing.

    Thorn has made his mark at the Reds already, letting Quade Cooper know he can line up more boxing bouts and fewer games for Queensland. Thorn’s hard-nosed playing style seems incongruous with the modern-day coaching demands of deep video analysis and subtle variations.

    Brad Thorn celebrates

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    But he’s had good success at NRC level already and is surrounded by savvy operators, including former Rebels coach Tony McGahan.

    At the age of only 35, Wessels did a great job in Western Australia. He’s got the nous to pick apart opposition teams and get the best out of his own. He comes across as a mini Jake White or Eddie Jones – nearly always knowing what buttons to press.

    Plus the Rebels have lured some quality Force players – including Dane Haylett-Petty and Adam Coleman – while Genia, Reece Hodge and Amanaki Mafi add class.

    McKellar takes over from Stephen Larkham. He’s impressive when dissecting the game and seems like a very ambitious coach. Given he doesn’t have a big profile, we will only get to know after a month of the season how he handles the step up to the head coaching role having handled the club’s forwards recently.

    Castle’s appointment as Rugby Australia’s new chief executive this week meant the worldwide search of Mosman came up short.

    It was a timely announcement, ensuring Aussie rugby can move on from the Bill Pulver era. He shouldn’t have to wear the blame for the Force axing saga, but even still, it was going to be a tough task to stay in the job and attempt to placate seething fans both west and east.

    Castle will be positioning RA for the World Cup in 2019 and crucially, the next broadcast deal from 2020. What the next Super Rugby format looks like, against teams from which countries, with or without expansion, will be critical to Australian rugby’s short and medium-term future.

    The financial landscape, with RA’s media deals at the centre, will determine whether Australia can remain in some way competitive with Europe and Japan to retain players.

    Fall too far behind, and it’s not too fanciful to think that players might brush any new regional competition just as Australia’s top soccer players brush the A-League in search of the massive overseas coin.

    Oh, and of course now Castle needs to lead Australia’s bids for the women’s World Cup in 2021 and men’s World Cup in 2027. Pocock can be the poster boy!

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (120)

    • December 15th 2017 @ 7:11am
      Not so super said | December 15th 2017 @ 7:11am | ! Report

      I really think rugby fans blame the ARU too much for the situation of rugby
      They also miraculously think a CEO will make a huge difference

      • December 15th 2017 @ 8:46am
        Bakkies said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        So who else put 10s of millions down a black hole in Melbourne? Sure wasn’t the owners.

        • Roar Rookie

          December 15th 2017 @ 11:37am
          piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          Well.. rugby seems to be doing just fine in the rest of the world.

          Struggling in Australia

          Who’s in charge of rugby in Australia?

          • Roar Guru

            December 15th 2017 @ 12:23pm
            Train Without A Station said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

            Australia also has tougher direct competition than other nations though.

            England is the only nation with a professional RL competition – and it has always been a poor cousin of Rugby.

            Football is the equivalent to AFL or NRL there, but imagine if the AFL and NRL had their Grand Finals in April, how much more of the market rugby would capture.

            • December 15th 2017 @ 4:47pm
              sheek said | December 15th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

              Four football codes have co-existed in Australia since 1908. Time for rugby & its fans to find an another excuse.

              Or deal with it…..

              • December 15th 2017 @ 6:58pm
                Train Without A Station said | December 15th 2017 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

                And Australian Rugby has never been wildly successful, always battling for relevance and TV eyes…

            • December 15th 2017 @ 4:56pm
              woodart said | December 15th 2017 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

              rubbish, what about ireland? this old excuse is wrong

              • December 15th 2017 @ 6:56pm
                Train Without A Station said | December 15th 2017 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

                Gaelic football isn’t in the same season…

                Irish rugby only competes with Hurling.

              • December 16th 2017 @ 10:58am
                Bakkies said | December 16th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

                Hurling is played in the Summer.

          • December 15th 2017 @ 3:19pm
            not so super said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

            piru – it isnt. that just something you rah rah like to tell yourselves

          • December 18th 2017 @ 7:56pm
            John GatesJohnWhy.. said | December 18th 2017 @ 7:56pm | ! Report

            Why.. we Roarers, of course!

        • December 15th 2017 @ 11:53am
          Brian said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

          better than sinking $10m into a dump like Perth!

          • Roar Rookie

            December 15th 2017 @ 12:03pm
            piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

            You’re just salty because we’re cooler than you, with your man buns and deconstructed lettuce and lentil burgers and horrible, horrible coffee.




            But hey, at least you have most of our rugby team, maybe there’s hope for you after all, uncool older brother.

            • December 15th 2017 @ 12:53pm
              MitchO said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

              To be fair Piru they do have decent coffee over there. The weather is mostly what they deserve however.

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 12:57pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                They THINK they have decent coffee, and it’s cool amongst the Perth hipsters to pretend so, but Perth’s is, on average, much better.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 2:26pm
                MitchO said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

                In that case I need to drink more coffee.

                I was over there a couple of weeks ago. Heard about these cool rooftop bars. climbed three flights of stairs (no lift), paid $13 for a pint of beer, no view. How smart am I.

                Naked for Satan is worth a visit though if in the area. That has a view and a lift and decent food.

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 2:37pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

                It’s been a few years since I journeyed to Melbournistan – was there for MotoGP but after the treatment we got from the road gestapo never again.

                Actually quite like the city

              • Roar Guru

                December 15th 2017 @ 3:02pm
                Train Without A Station said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

                I can tell it’s been a few years.

                In your posts it’s obvious that any of the kulcha you picked up has almost completely worn off.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 3:48pm
                MitchO said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

                Some mates went over for a Bledisloe weekend and had a good time.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 4:57pm
                woodart said | December 15th 2017 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

                you want good coffee, come to welly

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 5:09pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

                In your posts it’s obvious that any of the kulcha you picked up has almost completely worn off.

                Whatever it was I’m glad it’s wearing off

                beware of Melbourne toilet seats

            • December 15th 2017 @ 3:20pm
              not so super said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

              if it says in a newspaper that perth is cool it must be true

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 3:25pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

                what about if it says it in three newspapers?

                I know it hurts, console yourself with rugby, you’ve got some decent players now.

                you’re welcome by the way

            • December 15th 2017 @ 9:10pm
              Charlie Turner said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

              If coffee’s your selling point you don’t deserve a rugby side.

              • December 16th 2017 @ 7:52am
                Uncle Eric said | December 16th 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

                Woodart’s right Wellington coffee is generally very good. Perth coffee is overpriced and over hyped, like the rest of the place really. But one thing Perth is good at is self-promotion. As for the articles well the Telegraph for one claims every place it goes to is the best on the planet…. Don’t know about Executive Style, but if it’s w**k factor you’re after Perth is the place to go.

              • December 17th 2017 @ 1:35pm
                andrewM said | December 17th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

                Most def overpriced but over-hyped?

              • Roar Rookie

                December 18th 2017 @ 1:23pm
                piru said | December 18th 2017 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

                If coffee’s your selling point you don’t deserve a rugby side.

                Who are you the rugby police?

    • December 15th 2017 @ 7:37am
      sheek said | December 15th 2017 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      Not so super,

      No, rugby fans can’t blame the ARU enough for the contemptible & vile manner in which they handled the Force cull.

      And no, most fans don’t miraculously think the new CEO will make a huge difference.

      But she will need a miracle or two herself to avoid being drowned from the poisoned chalice she has accepted.

    • December 15th 2017 @ 7:47am
      Worlds Biggest said | December 15th 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Pulver should leave now and let Raelene get on with it. She has an enormously difficult job ahead of her, Pulver staying in the job till February makes no sense at all.

      The first thing I would love to see Castle do regarding mending fences starts in WA and then grass roots. RA has lost a huge amount of credibility this year, Castle should start now with the repair work. Good luck Raelene !

      • December 15th 2017 @ 1:03pm
        Perthstayer said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

        WB – If Castle’s worth anything she’ll have demanded she in on the behind closed doors with Twiggy, even just as an observer. His funding could underpin her job until the next media deal.

        Twiggy is a master salesman, he will deal with the organ grinder, not the monkey. He is not the messiah but he is the proverbial gift horse.

    • December 15th 2017 @ 8:07am
      Ex force fan said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

      I agree that Pulver should not wear the blame ALONE for the clumpsy and unprofessional way the whole Force axing saga play out. A process was so unfair that it had to be played out in the courts and a senate enquiry because the ARU/RA could not manage stakeholders. Their parter SARU managed to axe two teams without much fuss by setting these teams up with a Plan B. There is an obvious plan B available that will cost the ARU nothing, that the ARU tries to can. These cowards that are now hiding from the spotlight should now man up, however thry let Pulver be the scapegoat for their failings. Especially Cameron Clyne, the porky telling ex banking executive and John Eales should fall on their swords to give Castle clean air to build relationship with the franchises as there is no trust or goodwill left between the ARU/RA, the franchises or states with them on the Board. It is clear that every state is fighting for their own interest now and no-one for the national interest as the ARU/RA lacks leadership, vision and trust. The ARU/RA cannot move forward while Clyne and Eales overstay their welcome. As long as they are there pulling the strings Castle will be viewed as their puppet and the RA/ARU will continue to be an ineffective as a governing body.

      The mistake to drop WA professional rugby, to put all the ARU/RA eggs in the Melbourne basket and to snub Twiggy will play-out in the next couple of years as the ARU/RA loose control over rugby union in Australia. There is no union left in rugby union after 2017!

      • Roar Pro

        December 15th 2017 @ 9:29am
        robel said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        I second the sentiment EFF.

        Clyne, Pulver, Eales, Robinson and the rest of the board ALL are equally to blame for the backstabbing of rugby in WA and the Force. The only board member to show any integrity was Geoff Stooke.

      • December 15th 2017 @ 9:41am
        puff said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        Ex-ff to watch the ARU in play over the last 12 months was almost farcical. What was even more embarrassing is the dictatorial way Clyne, Pulver and friends have almost drained the life blood out of the code with their bully boy approach. Castle is smart enough to understand what her new purview requires. The trick is, dislodging the good old boys which include John Eales will not be simple. Cleaning house needs a soft tactical strategy which will receive considerable resistance. The challenge will be both on and off the field.

      • December 15th 2017 @ 1:08pm
        Perthstayer said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        Ex FF – “Clumpsy”. 🙂 Best word to describe ARU.

      • December 16th 2017 @ 12:49am
        andrewM said | December 16th 2017 @ 12:49am | ! Report

        Hear Hear EFF!

    • December 15th 2017 @ 8:15am
      rugger said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Cameron Clyne has to go to give RA new direction.

      We need new voice and fresh eyes both at CEO and board level.

      And corporate governance has to change so that NSW and QLD do not have veto power.

      Voting to get rid of Force was NSW acting in self-interest, hoping to pick off players from Force.

      This farce cannot continue of rugby is to grow from narrow confines of north shores of Sydney and parts of Brisbane.

      • Roar Guru

        December 15th 2017 @ 8:29am
        PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

        voting off force wasn’t so tahs could get force players , but so the money spent on super rugby would be reduced and more funneled back to shute shield

        • December 15th 2017 @ 8:47am
          Bakkies said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

          How’s that working for them?

        • December 15th 2017 @ 11:06am
          concerned supporter said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

          Peter K,You said,
          “but so the money spent on super rugby would be reduced and more funneled back to shute shield ”
          Again your Shute Shield basis crops up, (anti)
          Do you have any evidence? Links? to support your statement.
          I am busy at the moment but over the week end I will send you Roger Davis’ infamous statement on the culling of one Super Rugby side.
          I assume you know who Roger Davis is?

          • Roar Rookie

            December 15th 2017 @ 11:39am
            piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

            They hadn’t even announced which team was going (although we now know it had been decided long before) when the NSWRU folks were trying to claim they should get the most of the money.

            • Roar Guru

              December 15th 2017 @ 12:00pm
              PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

              NSWRU view shute shield clubs as their primary asset so guess where the money would be channeled , or at least a lot of it.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 12:40pm
                Cynical Play said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

                You sound like you are saying the Tahs were behind the force chop. Somehow the Tahs are up to no good hey Peter?!
                Give it a rest man.

              • Roar Guru

                December 15th 2017 @ 12:45pm
                PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

                CP – Actually no, I am refuting the tahs were behind it which was the initial claim.

                NSWRU is a different entity to the Waratahs, different boards etc.

                NSWRU certainly voted to eliminate a super rugby team, tahs didn’t.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 1:26pm
                rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

                Everyone voted to eliminate the Force.

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 1:35pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

                Yep – and let’s not pretend the question was ever ‘should we eliminate a super team’.

                it was always ‘should we eliminate the Force’.

                That’s why Stooker resigned in protest

              • December 15th 2017 @ 2:08pm
                rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

                With you Piru. The rest of the country didn’t vote out the Force to help the SS.

              • Roar Guru

                December 15th 2017 @ 3:06pm
                PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

                rebel – agree, but that was part of the nswru motivation

              • December 15th 2017 @ 5:49pm
                rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

                Anything formal to prove that and that other areas didn’t have the same motivation.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 3:35pm
                concerned supporter said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

                Peter K,
                “12 April 2017,
                “New South Wales Rugby Union and Waratahs chairman Roger Davis believes chopping a Super Rugby team is the right decision because it will give NSW the slice of revenue pie they deserve to put into grassroots.
                While the Waratahs were never in any danger of being culled from Super Rugby next year, the ongoing uncertainty has affected the code, according to Davis.
                “”I’m unequivocally selfish in this,” Davis said. “Focusing on NSW and my colleagues to the north in Queensland, we’ve got 80 per cent of the players, 80 per cent of the Super players, they all come from NSW and Queensland and that’s there we believe any community funding should be directed.”
                Please note,
                1/Roger Davis is Chairman of both NSWRU & Waratahs.
                2/ This statement was made in April.
                3/ Did not you & TWAS say that Shutw Shield was NOT grassroots?

              • Roar Guru

                December 15th 2017 @ 3:42pm
                PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

                but roger davis and his ilk (Papworth) do erroneously portray shute shield as grassroots.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 4:17pm
                concerned supporter said | December 15th 2017 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

                Peter K,
                THere you go again.
                1/ Roger Davis has nothing at all to do with the Shute Shield.
                2/ Brett Papworth is not the ILK of Roger Davis,.in the eyes of most people.
                You are blinded by your hate of the Shute Shield.

            • December 15th 2017 @ 1:22pm
              rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

              Come on Piru, as a kiwi you should know better to lump the whole in with a few individuals.

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 1:26pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

                Wasn’t lumping anyone, didn’t the head honcho make a statement to this effect?

              • December 15th 2017 @ 2:12pm
                rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

                Not sure but I don’t think there is an official position. I know plenty of NSWRU folk who are disgusted with the Force axing.

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 2:18pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

                I wasn’t suggesting the decision was made with their input, just that the head guy (who’s name I can’t remember) was pretty quick to be demanding a cut.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 2:36pm
                rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

                I think it was Roger Davis the NSWRU Chairman. But again it went against a lit of others opinions.
                I personally thought it was in poor taste.

      • December 15th 2017 @ 9:19am
        Neil said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        Yes, Rugger, the Tahs did such a good job of attracting talent from the Force, didn’t they. Looks to me as though they didn’t even put their hand up. Then again, Gibson wouldn’t know talent if it bit him and would stick with stupid hirings like Simmons.

      • December 15th 2017 @ 9:57am
        Bakkies said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        Rugger there is a new petition out today to push for de Clyne’s resignation.

        • December 15th 2017 @ 3:42pm
          concerned supporter said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

          Thanks Bakkies,
          How embarrassing for C. Clyne,wonder whether he is attending any Rugby club AGM’s?
          I will be signing, and sending the link to ex players who are fed up with the current. ARU.

          • December 15th 2017 @ 5:48pm
            Bakkies said | December 15th 2017 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

            Thanks the more the merrier. Apart from Sydney Uni I doubt he would be going in to any other AGMs.

        • December 15th 2017 @ 9:24pm
          Cole said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:24pm | ! Report

          Signed it.

      • December 15th 2017 @ 5:09pm
        Morsie said | December 15th 2017 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

        They had a horrible job to do – unenviable – and as a consequence of an earlier deal done by an earlier board agreeing with SANZAR and SA’s obsession with including another team for meeting racial quotas. Someone was always going to get hurt.

        • December 19th 2017 @ 1:30pm
          Bakkies said | December 19th 2017 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

          The RA had the right to veto but instead saw delusion and Unit Trusts in Melbourne.

    • December 15th 2017 @ 8:19am
      SamSport said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      I’m optimistic about Castle. AR need new blood and she fits the criteria perfectly. Someone with a different perspective and experiences outside of the traditional Australian rugby old-boys network. Hopefully rugby in Australia has hit its bottom and can start climbing up again.

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