Paul Cully: It's time for Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver to go

Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver should step down, writes Paul Cully.
BRENDON THORNE/GETTY IMAGES

Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver should step down, writes Paul Cully.

OPINION: That Bill Pulver remains as chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union suggests that he has lost sight of whether the job is a right or a privilege.

It is more than two months since Pulver attended a Sanzaar meeting in London to decide Australia's fate in Super Rugby and here we are today, not only none the wiser but angrier, more confused, or perhaps just more apathetic.

In South Africa, emotions are also running high as they ponder cutting two teams from Super Rugby, but the order they have brought to their process makes the ARU look like it is fumbling in the dark at 3am after a lunch that began with good intentions at 1pm.

Chairman Cameron Clyne, left, and Bill Pulver are at the forefront of a struggling Australian Rugby Union.
BRENDON THORNE/GETTY IMAGES

Chairman Cameron Clyne, left, and Bill Pulver are at the forefront of a struggling Australian Rugby Union.

Indeed, if the South Africans do manage to place the two teams cut from Super Rugby into European competition, it would be an act of administrative genius (although somewhat worrying for Super Rugby's longer-term future).

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Yet in Australia the players have clearly had enough. There are obvious pressures on them in terms of livelihood but there are also unseen ones.

Will it be the Western Force or Melbourne Rebels to get the axe?
DARRIAN TRAYNOR/GETTY IMAGES

Will it be the Western Force or Melbourne Rebels to get the axe?

Players at certain clubs don't want to be seen as the first to jump ship, particularly if they are key men at the franchises. One Wallaby will likely head overseas and then promptly return closer to his roots to avoid that stigma – all of it the ARU's doing.

And this is written from a viewpoint that is broadly unsympathetic to Australian players' wishes and supportive of the ARU decision to cut a team.

Four teams is the right model for the times. Clever, engaged and insightful people disagree with this and I hear their arguments. But Australia merits a fifth team in a southern hemisphere rugby competition far less than Fiji or Samoa deserves just one.

Having four provincial high performance teams does not undersell Australia's current status. Ireland, the most recent conquerors of New Zealand, seem to get by with the same number and rugby is the third-choice sport for many athletes on the island (perhaps their centralised model explains their success, more of which at another time).

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So it is not the decision itself that is now the issue, it is the terrible way it has been handled and the doubts about whether it can even be implemented. Those are the charges the ARU and Pulver must answer.

It's arguable which charge is worse: the handling of the axing or the inability to deliver on it (though they might be one and the same thing).

But the more conversations I have the more I lean towards the former. There are a great many people in Australian rugby willing to work in tumultuous times and make compromises for the greater good, but the number of people who are tolerant of incompetency and lack of clarity are far fewer.

Hence, the rage. If you get the sense that is has been building, then you are correct. It is the not knowing that causes the angst. Tom English, the Rebels centre/wing who is this season worthy of a Wallabies squad spot, might not regard himself as a spokesman, but his remarks of two weeks ago hit the spot. He urged the ARU to "rip the Band-Aid off".

The ARU might counter that a resolution would have been found by now had the Force and Rebels not pushed back so hard against them – but did they not expect a drowning man to kick?

It all brings us back to Pulver. The job has never seemed like an easy fit. There were too many silly statements that were divorced from reality and an inability to attach Australia to rugby's rise globally.

It is true the ARU also faces headwinds but if accountability is still relevant then the outcome is clear. Australian rugby is floundering. It is time for Pulver to go, and go soon.

 

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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