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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Ruck'n Maul
Unsavoury sledging did not end with Potgieter
Greg Growden
March 27, 2015
Greg Growden speaks in praise of David Pocock

How apt that the next match between two long-time squabbling next-door neighbours will be on May 1. May Day. Mayday.

David Pocock upset those who believe what happens on the field should stay on the field when he made a complaint about homophobic slurs during the Waratahs-Brumbies match, which led to Jacques Potgieter being fined. But the former Wallabies captain had little option but to voice his team-mates' complaints to referee Craig Joubert as the Australian Rugby Union has been so vocal and persistent in pushing its Inclusion Policy. Pocock, who had every reason to be unimpressed with the comments made, was certainly not a lone voice among the Brumbies in wanting to complain about the derogatory remarks. He was not jumping on a soapbox, as he was unaware his comments to Joubert would be heard, including by journalists who were listening in the press box via SportsEars. But Ruck'n Maul sources say the sledging did not end there, with one Waratahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised with what an opponent muttered near him during the game. What was uttered wasn't homophobic, but it was unsavoury. We were told a Waratahs official later asked his Brumbies counterpart if such comments were appropriate. As all involved in Australian derbies admit, these are not timid affairs. Sadly, it appears that Pocock's willingness to stand his ground and vehemently defend causes close to his heart will affect his chances of regaining the Wallabies captaincy position for the Rugby World Cup. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika denies the comments will be an issue, but the ARU, much as officials won't ever say so, is wary of those perceived by some as being troublemakers. And how apt that the next match between two long-time squabbling next-door neighbours will be on May 1. May Day. Mayday.

Great meeting the boys from @sydneyconvicts! Happy for the opportunity to apologize in person. Backing you guys 100%!

A photo posted by Jacques Potgieter (@jacquespotgieter7) on

Reds are fracturing one more

The return of Karmichael Hunt to Queensland Reds' training has provided a deflection to some of the pressures on troubled coach Richard Graham, but rumblings of discontent among the players have re-surfaced nonetheless - similar to last season, when the group divided into two distinct camps. Numerous Reds apparently would not be upset if one of their biggest-name players left before the World Cup. But he won't leave and, according to our ever-reliable Reds snouts, "the camp will remain fractious". At least Brian Smith is out of the reckoning as a Reds coaching candidate, after Scots College in Sydney that the former Wallabies and Ireland Test representative was taking over as the school's director of rugby from next month.

Now we have heard everything - again

SANZAR is appealing against the outcome of its own judicial hearing involving Sharks centre Francois Steyn. Just as the IRB did unsuccessfully when Wallabies captain James Horwill was cleared to play the deciding third Test against the British & Irish Lions in 2013. Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Sun, Surf and Scrums

Super Rugby Preview: Round 7

Club football histories can be dry affairs. Thankfully those involved in the writing of Manly Rugby's Sun, Surf and Scrums have avoided the usual pitfalls when chronicling the life and times of the club since the 1880s. Life and vibrancy, rather than dull statistics, dominate the 482-page book, focusing on the numerous characters who have appeared for the club. These include the eccentric Aub Hodgson; Rex Mossop, who held the rare record of being sent off in both a rugby union and rugby league first-grade final; Ron Walden, Wallabies captain, club president and police detective, who was heavily involved in the investigation of the kidnapping of Sydney schoolboy Graeme Thorne in 1960; and Geoffrey Wyld, who stood up on a surfboard several years before the famous Duke Kahanamoku moment at Freshwater in 1914-1915. The controversial moments are not ignored, including when in 1953 Eastern Suburbs hardman Perc Newton was confronted when leaving Manly Oval by a gentlemen who looked like the father of one of the home team forwards. Newton thought the person was going to congratulate him with a handshake when he raised his right arm. Instead the spectator said "cop this" and decked Newton flush on the jaw. Apparently the father was upset with how Newton had treated his son during the game. Then there was the club rebellion in 1908, when disenchanted players sent a letter to the Manly Daily newspaper explaining how they had lost faith in the club selectors. The letter read: "We, the Manly second grade football club, not agreeing with the selectors of the first grade in the men they have chosen to represent Manly, do hereby challenge the latter to a friendly game of football, to be played on Easter Monday, so as to give the selectors an opportunity of seeing and rectifying their mistake before the season has well begun." Also every member of the Manly reserve-grade team was sent off at least twice during the 1920s.

Sun, Surf and Scrums is highly recommended.

Hairstyle of the Year

Former Brumbies prop Dan Palmer is the early leader in the Hairstyle of the Year competition, after he was sighted sitting next to Stephen Larkham in the coach's box on Sunday. Echoes of David Lynch's Eraserhead. And are there any bigger forwards running around than Warringah Rats prop Manessah Alaga, who hit the scales at 155kg before his first game last weekend?

'It's only the Shute Shield, no one cares anyway'

Pleasing that Sydney club rugby is back on free-to-air television, with the Shute Shield shown on 7TWO. The telecast won't win a Logie, but it's at least something with clubs knowing the consequence of no coverage includes a distinct drop in sponsor interest. Not so pleasing were the antics of several tired and emotional sideline supporters who disgraced themselves with dreadful comments aimed at several players. There were embarrassing scenes at another Sydney ground when a first-grade coach in the dressing room abused one of his players with a stream of disgusting racist remarks following the game. Racist comments, like homophobic slurs, have to be eradicated from the game.

Pale ale? © Image Supplied: Randwick Rugby Club

Also, a comment at NSW HQ on Monday morning didn't go down well. After complaints about the Shute Shield coverage, a NSW official was heard to utter: "It's only the Shute Shield. No one cares anyway." Danger, danger, danger.

Jeff Sayle achieves life-long ambition

Jeff Sayle, Randwick stalwart and former Wallabies flanker, has had a beer named after him. Jeff Sayle Ale will be on sale at Coogee Oval from this weekend. There will be a stampede, led by the supercoach

Quote of the Week

"You never say never"

  • Cantabrian Robbie Deans when asked whether he would be interested in coaching the Blues.

Whispers of the Week

  • Serious problems at two Australian provinces: the head coach and his assistant at one are looking elsewhere, with travel budget cuts taking its toll; the coach at another is feuding with several board members, who are certainly no fans of his. We've been told the latter coach had "better watch his step" as there is a definite threat his contract will be torn up.
  • Did a high-ranking Australian rugby official really go over the top in criticising a Sydney premiership club? Problem was the club committee member taped the conversation. "These criticisms were far too close to the bone."
  • Relief at Fox Sports that there was at last a bit of excitement in an Australian derby - the Waratahs-Brumbies fixture - as early Super Rugby viewing figures have been "underwhelming".

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