The video age, the empowering of touch judges and changes in the rucking rules mean there’s much less contact between heads and boots these days on the rugby field – but clashes of skull and sprig continue unabated among officials. Unfortunately it’s becoming Australia’s only area of excellence at the senior level.

The heavenly game’s year starts with the Super 14 and Six Nations this weekend, but games have never stopped in the boardrooms and offices.

Aside from the usual “if-you-see-a-head-kick-it” of sports hierarchies, there are two particular Z-grade competitions underway in this Z-grade stuff: an attempt to draft former ARU CEO John O’Neill as an ARU director, and the ARU v provinces brawl over power over players.

There’s not much new about the latter, but it’s an indication of the sorry state of officialdom when ARU president Paul McLean has to write an open letter asking the various turkeys to put the game ahead of their pettiness and general stupidity.

The O’Neill push is more interesting. It’s not hard to read between the lines of Greg Growden’s coverage over the last two days to get the picture. O’Neill, Australia’s most successful sports administrator, was shafted by the then ARU board after the 2003 World Cup, but there are plenty of folk around now who have seen the error of their ways and would like him back.

Such is the nature of petty power, not everyone is prepared to make space for him. “It’s my turn to be on the board,” one anonymous NSW candidate has reportedly said. “And I want the biggest icecream,” he might well have added.

O’Neill still has his share of enemies and, quite reasonably, wasn’t prepared to put himself through the humiliation of being grilled by the lesser achievers of the NSWRU to get the state’s nomination to the ARU board. The door has been left open, though, if the leather patches brigade can get their act together long enough to draft him unopposed.

That would require some intelligence and selflessness and would also be opposed by the less than secure denizens of ARU HQ – so don’t bet on it.

At least it provides alternative reading to rehashing Kurtley Beale’s drink driving conviction. Wonder if that was why he was catching the train to training, a major point of one newspaper’s feature on him in December.

Oh, it will be so grand to have the game back on the paddock tomorrow night. On the pitch you can see the hits coming.

Peter Fray

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