The Roar
The Roar

Spiro Zavos


Joined December 2006







Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was a long-time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that ran 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.



Left wing, perhaps.

Why the Wallabies need their big winger back


Israel Folau departed Australian rugby in ‘unsavoury circumstances,’ you say.

But was his comment much different from the widely applauded comment by President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright: ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’

Just asking.

Why the Wallabies need their big winger back


If Israel Folau’s attackers were a majority of rugby followers why did the number of people attending Wallabies and Waratahs matches in person and on television decline dramatically? Folau had the support of the majority of Waratahs and Wallabies players. So much so that Raelene Castle agreed to work with RUPA for work out an agreement on what Christian players could or not say about their religious beliefs and not be sacked like Folau.

I asked Raelene Castle and RUPA several times what happened to this promise and I was told that they were sort of trying to work on it.

The fact of the matter is that there is still no document that allows Christian players to express aspects of their belief without being sacked. But players can attack Christian beliefs in far more vicious rhetoric than that used by Folau are not required to desist, indeed they are and were elevated to leadership positions for doing so.

It would be helpful in all this discussion if people read the evidence of Sekope Kefu to the Melbourne Tribunal where it was clear that Rugby Australia were not entitled to sack Folau on the grounds of his religious beliefs.

Rugby Australia, as it for the four years under the Cameron Clyne, Bill Pulver/Raelene Castle regime, kept relevant and important information about the Folau case from the media and from the rugby public. This continued when they settled the case. They refused to tell us that they had paid out millions of dollars to Folau. Instead they ‘encouraged’ the rugby media to believe that the settlement was about $200,000.

The real problem in all of this Cameron Clyne. He created a coup by becoming Chairman of Rugby Australia and then bringing in a cohort of board members and CEOs who were more interested in politicising the organisation than running the rugby game in Australia.

The siege on Castle in review

Hi Geoff

You presume that Optus made a much higher bid for Australian rugby than Fox Sports did with its second bid.

There is no evidence for this.

I would like to know from you, for instance, what the details of the Optus deal were. So far proponents of the deal have not given any details.

Moreover, when Optus had the chance to make a substantial and real deal months ago, it did not do so.

Instead, it pulled out suddenly when it was supposed to be clinching the deal allowing Rugby Australia to claim that ‘it was within a week or so’ of signing up to a massive deal.

Rugby Australia then said it would consider its broadcasting options at the end of the year.

But after Raelene Castle resigned, Rugby Australia said that the broadcasting deal would be back on the table for negotiations in July.

But today, Monday, we had the SMH reporting that Optus would not return to the negotiating table this year.

Nothing in the behaviour of Optus in this sorry saga suggests that they were particularly keen to make a substantial bid to Rugby Australia for the rugby broadcasting rights.

What sort of money were they offering? Who was going to do the production of all the matches in Australia? Would the service include running rugby from New Zealand, South Africa, France and Great Britain and Ireland, as Fox Sports does?

One of the rules of good journalism is that the journalists decide what is to be discussed, not the people having to answer the questions.

Your question about ‘the wreckers’ allowed Paul McLean to avoid the real issues now facing Rugby Australia, namely unaudited annual accounts and no broadcasting deal.

My take on what happened with Raelene Castle is that the new board members and RUPA were horrified at the financial and broadcasting mess left for them to clean up that they forced the resignation of the person responsible for the broadcasting part of the mess.

To quote Brett Harris again: ‘The RA board became increasingly uncertain Castle could deliver the outcomes the game needed to survive. In her resignation statement Castle said it had been made clear to her departure would give the board the “clean air” they believe they needed.’

Why didn’t the rugby media questioning Paul McLean try to find out what this statement from Raelene Castle really mean?

The Wrap: Unravelling Australian rugby’s unholy war


I was surprised that the rugby media involved in the Paul McLean interview and answer session did not press the acting chairman of Rugby Australia on two crucial issues: the integrity of the unaudited accounts of Rugby Australia and the unresolved broadcasting rights for the 2021 and future rugby seasons.

The refusal to allow the accounts to be audited is a serious matter. RUPA agitated for weeks for this information and when the real but still unaudited figures were revealed to them they immediately settled for taking a massive cut to the salaries of the players.

This suggests to me that Rugby Australia has not been upfront with the rugby community about the real state of its accounts.

There have been media reports that the loss for the 2019/2020 year is significantly higher than the leaked figure of $9 million.

It has been reported, for example, that Rugby Australia’s lawyers are yet to be paid out for their work on the Folau case.

Why wasn’t Paul McLean questioned diligently on the accounts and why they remain unaudited?

Similarly, the rugby media has swallowed the lines that ‘Optus was within a week’ of signing a massive broadcasting deal with Rugby Australia.

There have been media reports that the Optus deal was a low bid.

Why wasn’t Paul McLean questioned about this by the rugby media?

Instead, on the Monday after the interview, the SMH announced that Optus was not returning to the negotiating this year.

The truth about the new broadcast deal is that Raelene Castle, who was leading the negotiations for Rugby Australia, snatched disaster from the jaws of victory with her obsession against Fox Sports.

On 25 April Brett Harris wrote an important story on this matter for The Guardian: ‘Raelene Castle becomes the latest casualty of Australia’s flawed rugby system.’

Here are two important paragraphs from this story:

‘It would hardly have surprised Fox Sports executives when Castle rejected their initial low offer of $20m a year for broadcast rights, but what Castle did next would have stunned them. For the first time, Castle took the broadcast rights to open tender, hoping to create a competitive tension between Fox Sports and another bidder, expected to be Optus.

‘Castle’s ballsy move prompted Fox Sports to make a much improved revised offer, but Castle did not seem to fully appreciate the magnitude of her victory and rejected it. It is understoo Fox Sports executives breathed a huge sigh of relief and then withdrew from the bidding process. The pressure on Castle has mounted ever since, reaching a breaking point with the captains’ call for change.’

Again, why wasn’t Paul McLean questioned about this at the media interview on Saturday?

Raelene Castle’s lost gamble on the broadcasting rights of Australian rugby is arguably the most catastrophic decision made by a Rugby Australia official.

The Wrap: Unravelling Australian rugby’s unholy war


Thanks for this. I knew about ‘Weary’ Dunlop and Carl Aarvold, a brilliant number 10, I believe. But it is great that you revived their memory. ‘Weary’ was buried in his Wallaby jersey. But the other names were new to me. These names reinforce the notion in the early days of rugby that it was a brilliant game to train young men for war. I once wrote an article on how the metaphors of rugby are all war metaphors. Players kick ‘bombs.’ The fullback is ‘the last line of defence.’ Cheeky halfbacks ‘snipe’ around the scrums and rucks and so on.

By contrast, cricket is a game where the metaphors are about death. When a batsman is bowled he hears ‘the death rattle,’ ‘departs the scene’ and throws his gear into his ‘coffin’ and so on.

How to watch a game of rugby: Part 4

It occurs to me that if I were writing that section of the essay now I would have given examples of where the producer’s version of the game has been used, in some instances, in various countries to affect the decision of referees.

We know that sometimes a replay will come up on the big screen alerting the referee to something he and the assistant referees might have missed.

Sometimes these replays are required with the new protocols regarding high tackles and foul play.

But there are other occasions like forward passes where the judgment of the referee and his assistant is put under pressure.

Almost invariably these interventions by the television producers favour the home side.

How to watch a game of rugby: Part 2

As one of those rugby writers who has an ‘erratic’ preference for Liam Wright over Michael Hooper, I would make a couple of points in support of my position.

First, Hooper is one of those players, in my opinion, whose statistics are much better than his actual play.

If you watch his play carefully, you come to a realisation that many of his tackles are second-in tackles made after someone else has made the initial hit.

When he was younger he could make searing runs off an inside pass from a playmaker. This aspect of his play is rarely seen now.

Which brings me to the second point, you rarely if ever see Hooper make a big play. It is quite remarkable that after a long career with the Waratahs and Wallabies that there no big plays, match-turning plays, can be remembered about his play.

Third, he lacks the dynamism he had when he burst on to the scene. It is inevitable that a number 7 slows down and becomes less dynamic after playing a long stint in Super Rugby and Test rugby.

Richie McCaw started out as a tearaway, try-scoring number 7. I saw him score several tries for a NZ Junior side against an England side in a curtain-raiser before an All Blacks – Springboks match at Christchurch.

But as his career went on and after the inevitable injuries and knocks, he slowed down. When this happened, he re-designed his game, rather like Michael Jones.

In this re-designed style, he was effective in different ways from when he came into the All Blacks as a youngster. His last Test, the Rugby World Cup final in 2015 was one of his finest matches but in a different mode to, say, his first Test against Ireland when he turned on a terrific second half, won the Match of the Match award and help turn a large points deficit against the All Blacks into a victory.

The point here is that Hooper is at the point of his career when he should be maturing his game to be as effective as he was when he was younger.

He isn’t and hasn’t done this.

When there is no growth in a player’s game and he is long into his career, it is time to look to his successor.

Right now that looks like Liam Wright.

The great Australian openside debate: Round 2

The point of my article was to point out that Rugby Australia has still not honoured its commitment to the Christian players to set out what is acceptable to say publicly about their beliefs, and what is not acceptable to the organisation and RUPA – and, presumably, its sponsors.

The lack of a definitive statement on this matter is the ‘shadow’ obscuring the good things that might be happening in Australian rugby.

Shadow of Folau obscures signs of rugby's revival in Australia


Thanks for this. Hopefully we will meet up again at Eastgate and have a chat about the things that matter in life, rugby issues. I’d relish that. See you soon. I learn more about rugby and life matters from readers than I do from my fellow rugby journalists.


Boks glory: A team of 57 million people beats 23 professionals


Your argument was that without Israel Folau the back three performance would improve.

I didn’t see that argument fulfilled against England.

Michael Cheika's failure at the World Cup is Rugby Australia's, too

This is correct.

(17 September 2018) Guide to the Qantas and Emirates alliance published by Qantas.

‘Launched in 2013, this airline partnership offers Qantas and Emirates customers more seamless travel between Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. This includes Qantas flights that connect to Europe through Dubai, as well as Emirates flights to Australia and New Zealand … Depending on your membership status and fare class, you also can enjoy access to airline lounges operated by both Qantas and Emirates …’

This partnership replaced the agreement with Etihad.

There is no indication in the new alliance announcement that Emirates has desisted from its policy, shared with Etihad, of not employing gays .

Israel Folau has been unfairly hounded out of Australian rugby

A statement issued from Sydney on 8 March 2010, Qantas Corporate Communication (4033) said: ‘Qantas today announced an expansion of its codeshare partnership with Etihad to include land transport from Abu Dhabi to Dubai … Qantas currently codeshares on Etihad services between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane …’

Qantas does have a business arrangement with Etihad that operates in Australia.

Spiro Zavos

Israel Folau has been unfairly hounded out of Australian rugby

Thank you for this. I regard the comments the most important part of any article I write.

I read them all and take in all the new facts and interesting insights that are invariably raised in them.

The comments are the real roar of The Roar.

An update from The Roar regarding comments

His photograph was never published while he was playing representative rugby.

Brad Thorn's selection policy has him on the right track for a Reds resurrection

Is this ODI being carried on any television station?

England vs Australia highlights: International cricket, first ODI live scores, blog

That second sentence should read: I did not play for New Zealand or Australia on the sporting field.

The Baggy Green Caps need to use the mantra: 'What would Richie say?'

Ian, you win the bet. I did not representative New Zealand or Australia on the sporting field.

I was inducted into the Greek/ Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, along with Peter Peters for services to sports journalism. And I did represent Wellington as an opening batsman against MCC (England) in a first class cricket match. Does this count in the bet?

Seriously, though, you don’t have to be an actual practictioner to give well-considered opinions on matters of sporting interest, or any other interest for that matter.

The Baggy Green Caps need to use the mantra: 'What would Richie say?'

Robin Williams once reckoned that cricket was “baseball on valium.” I’d say that if T10 catches on the Williams joke will have to be changed to “baseball is T10 on valium.”

Incidentally, congratulations to Anindya on his new book “Spell-binding Spells,”, a fascinating study of most of the greatest bursts of bowling in the history of Test cricket.

Can T10 make cricket a truly global game?

DaveJ, that photo of Bradman and Cowdrey you have sent in is interesting.. Bradman’s top and bottom hand are further around the handle of the bat, in different directions, than Cowdrey’s.

The more I look at these two grips the more I see a sort of golf-overlapping grip by Cowdrey, allowing to the two hands to work as one, and a sort of two-handed baseball grip by Bradman, allowing either hand but especially the bottom hand to be the dominate hand.

Superbat Smith clones the Bradman method to become Australia's next-best batsman

Richard, there was no antagonism to South Africans in my use of the Herbert Sutcliffe statistic. I wanted to contrast the highest averages of a batsman playing over 50 Tests. Herbert Sutcliffe, after Steve Smith, has the third best batting average in this category.

Like you (and Don Bradman) and many thousands of cricket lovers I believe that Graeme Pollock was the greatest left-hand batsman of all time.

Superbat Smith clones the Bradman method to become Australia's next-best batsman

Atawhai Drive, there was a trial, I believe at Palmerston North, a couple of hours drive from Wellington, on the Wednesday before the Test.

After injuries (the gun winger Wally Argus was ruled out injured) and selection matters were resolved, the team was selected, according to reports at the time, on the Friday.

All Blacked-out! Inspiring stories of Bledisloe Cup glory and defeat

Paul, a most interesting article with some great research.

An interesting other issue in the development of the various football codes in Australia is the geographical/topographical imperative.

Melbourne had miles and miles of flat land so that a football game based around the Gaelic model on a huge paddock was feasible, if not desirable. Australian Rules, is one of the handful of games, like hockey and cricket, where there is not a standardised

Sydney and Brisbane, though, are hilly. There was a lack of flat land for sports paddocks. A football game on a smaller, standard-sized field was an obvious answer.

Taking this further, if you have a field some miles in length, as the first fields were in Melbourne, you need to create a game with a lot of people on the field, with a lot of kicking rather than passing to cover the distances between goals.

Anyway, Paul, great stuff and the stuff of invigorating discussion/argument in the finest sporting traditions.

Congratulations, too, to Daniel and his crew for the splendid presentation of the article.

The murky origins of Australia’s football codes

Sean O’Brien has now been cleared by the Commission.

But the fact that he was cited for an action with a “red card threshold” shows that there was the real possibility that the referee Jerome Garces, with a different view to the incident might well have given him a yellow card.

I think the debate about all this should be whether a red card offence should result in a rest of the match suspension.

My suggestion is that yellow cards should mean 10 minutes in the sin-bin and red cards 20 minutes.

Would the Lions have won if Sean O'Brien had been sent off?

I am at a loss to know how to respond to this tall tale from Wayne. But here goes.

The fact that Wayne says that his call for the removal of Bill Pulver and the ARU came a month or so ago, actually proves my case. Before then, Wayne was a constant supporter of Pulver and the board, as he well knows.

That he now acknowledges he has changed his mind on his support is an important aspect to the continuing saga about the credibility of the ARU board and is chief executive. This is why I referenced it in my article.

If the board and the ARU has lost the support of the chief rugby writer for The Australian, when they had in it the past, then this is an important a rugby news story. And this is why I reported it.

When the Michael Hawker/Bill Pulver team came in to run the ARU their strongest support came from Wayne. Wayne’s ferocious opposition to the former administration the Hawker/Pulver team replaced is part of the folklore of Australian rugby.

I am a journalist. I know that all of us want to have the inside running with organisations we write about. When I suggest that Wayne had this with the Hawker/Clyne/Pulver leadership there is a grudging sense of admiration in his achievement.

Every journalist works to get contacts within the organisation they are writing about. Wayne had those contacts and the rest of us who were shut out had to try and cope with his many news breaks.

The way Wayne’s name came up in my conversation with Pulver was like this.

I complained that the ARU generally did not publish statements on a frequent basis on the run of decisions taken by the ARU going about its routine business of running the game. The NZRU, I pointed out, publishes most of its statements and even has medias conferences after its board meetings.

Why didn’t the ARU copy this practice, I asked Pulver.

Pulver said: “If you want to find out what is happening, you only have to ring me.”

I replied: “How can I ring you to get further information about what is happening, when I don’t know what is happening.”

Pulver had no answer to this. It was then that I pointed out he was running that a system designed to keep the rugby media in the dark.

Pulver told me that this was how he operated and he wasn’t going to change.

After that reply I made the comment that the system favoured Wayne Smith and did not serve the interests of the wider Australian media or public.

Getting on to the issue of professional courtesy, I would point out that I really don’t have to contact Wayne about I said to Bill Pulver.

ARU madness! Pocock earns three times more than McMahon for not playing