New ARU chief executive passes first test
Until being introduced as John O'Neill's successor at the Australian Rugby Union Bill Pulver was known to Wallaby fans as the father of "collar bomb" hoax victim Madeleine - the Sydney schoolgirl subjected to one of Australia's most bizarre crimes of 2011.
So it was inevitable the multi-millionaire businessman was asked a cheeky, through pertinent, question when he was named as the ARU's new chief executive yesterday.
"Do you know who James Horwill is?" a journalist inquired as the 53-year-old former club halfback assumed one of the most high-profile positions in Australian sports administration.
"Yes, I do. James Horwill is the ex-captain of the Australian rugby team and hopefully soon to be back in the Wallabies team. I read all about his pretty dodgy knee yesterday."Pulver passed the test his Australian Rugby League Commission counterpart David Smith flunked last year when the Welshman's unveiling was marred by his inability to confirm the status of Cameron Smith - the Kangaroos, Queensland and Melbourne Storm captain.
Pulver's positive response may reassure a rugby fraternity that might be surprised by his left field appointment - an enthusiastic though limited player, his previous rugby administration experience is confined to the Mosman club in North Sydney.
"I fully acknowledge I'm coming into this role without experience as a sports administrator," he said.
"That doesn't intimidate me because I think running the Australian Rugby Union will be like running any other enterprise."
Pulver's prepared statement was laced with business buzzwords, the jargon he perfected while working as an international executive in Japan, the UK, United States and Australia. His most recent role was CEO of Appen Butler Hill Pty Ltd - a global leader in linguistic technology solutions.
"There are many exciting investment opportunities that are capable of igniting growth in our game," he said, adding: "In the short term the challenge for our team at the headquarters is to work with all the game's stakeholders to ensure rugby in Australia powers forward in a unified and energised force.
"I would," he said, "like to see the Australian Rugby Union as an innovative and profitable leader in a prosperous global rugby community."
The Wallabies were rarely mentioned by name or brand - like his rugby league rival Smith, Pulver was chosen from a shortlist of 14 for his business acumen rather than intimate knowledge of the game.
ARU chairman Michael Hawker said the successful applicant required a track record as a successful CEO, international experience, a love and understanding of rugby, experience in sports marketing and media arena and excellent communication skills.
And Pulver, his former teammate at the Shore School, was best qualified from an original field of 50 candidates.
Asked how he would condition rugby for a renewed turf war with league, AFL and football in 2013, the life member of NSW Rugby was noncommittal.
"I don't have all the answers but I will be extremely focused on trying to find them in the immediate future," Pulver vowed.
Part of the process would involve reviewing "best practice sports franchises" around the world.
"You look at some of the profitable European football teams ... and within our immediate code I think we have to be applauding what New Zealand rugby has done in their country."
He was also complimentary of under-fire Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans and toed the ARU board line by backing the New Zealander's retention through to the end of 2013 when his contract expires.
"That is 100 per cent consistent with my personal view," he said, "Robbie will be coaching the Wallabies through 2013."
However, the bottom line is a ranking of third in the world and a turgid 2012 test campaign that featured just 15 tries in 16 tests set a benchmark that must be lifted.
"We must aim to constantly enhance our entertainment experience," Pulver warned, well aware of rugby's standing in a competitive marketplace."We want the rugby package to be sufficiently entertaining to get them to attend games and watch them on TV. That will drive the revenue model, which is a very important part of our future."