Sport360° view: Australian rugby may not survive McKenzie’s scandal

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Centre of attention: Beale (l) and McKenzie are both implemented in 'text-gate'.

Ewen McKenzie, once believed to be the man who could save Australian rugby union, now stands on the verge of catalysing its ultimate demise.

Just over a year into his role as head coach, McKenzie has been forced into a staunch defence not only of his reign but also his integrity.

Whether the Wallabies coach and Di Patston, the business manager caught in the centre of the current storm, are romantically involved is largely irrelevant, but her role within the camp does appear to have caused friction.

It was first called into question when she took part in a disciplinary process in Dublin last November despite not being on the European tour in person.

That particular incident saw six players suspended and a further nine sanctioned, and seems to have sewn the seeds of discontent.

It had been hoped that McKenzie could harness the wayward but undoubted talents Australia possess, but with Kurtley Beale it looks as though that mission has failed.

His close relationship with Patston means it is difficult to believe the coach’s claims that he was unaware about the existence of the text messages in question until this week.

If he had known, it would suggest that their sudden appearance in the public domain is a step designed to lever Beale out of the international set-up once and for all.

The utility back is no stranger to controversy and if he is guilty of these latest misdemeanours then it is only right his Australia career is put on hold.

However, it may induce a knock-on effect that the Australian Rugby Union may not be able to recover from.

Israel Folau, Beale’s good friend, is already a target for Toulon and could decide to bring forward a potential move to France to before the World Cup.

Will Genia, although not currently first choice at scrum-half, and the returning Quade Cooper have also both toyed with moves abroad or to rugby league.

At a time when Australian rugby union is on life support – one report has claimed the ARU could be insolvent by next April – such developments could prove terminal.

Although union still leads the way in terms of participation in Australia, it is the poor relation when it comes to revenue.

As every other major nation heads into the autumn internationals with one eye on the World Cup, the Wallabies and McKenzie know they are fighting for survival.

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Wallabies boss McKenzie forced to deny affair claims

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Wallabies woe: Rumours have emerged relating to McKenzie's private life.

Australia coach Ewen McKenzie denied having an affair with a staff member as a row over allegedly offensive texts sent by Kurtley Beale took an unexpected twist.

A stony-faced McKenzie rejected rumours about his relationship with business manager Di Patston, who is on stress leave following a mid-flight argument with Beale during last week’s trip to Argentina.

Beale was suspended from the Argentina game over the argument, and was later barred from selection indefinitely after the emergence of “deeply offensive text messages” concerning a member of staff.

“I’ve got a professional relation­ship with her. And I refute that,” McKenzie told reporters, when asked if he had an “intimate” rela­tionship with Patston.

“There are people out there and that there’s some sort of campaign to impugn, that’s (not) the situa­tion,” said McKenzie, who is mar­ried with children.

“I’ve got a professional relation­ship with her and I refute that.”

Beale is under investigation by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) over both the argument and the text messages, and is expected to face a hearing early next week.

Australian media reports said the situation had become divisive in the Wallabies camp, which is also reeling from last week’s 21-17 defeat – Argentina’s first win in the Rugby Championship.

But McKenzie said: “I don’t think I have a divided camp. I know there’s been lots of talk in the news­papers and everyone’s got an opin­ion, but I know the playing group.”

He defended Patston’s appoint­ment, which was made during his tenure, and said he didn’t believe it had caused “angst” in the team.

“She came in as the business manager and she came in with a specific role to take the team to a new level,” he told a press confer­ence in Sydney.

“She’s got extraordinary skills and she had made a massive differ­ence to the business side of it and that’s what she’s done.”

McKenzie was also frustrated that the Wallabies were being side­tracked ahead of their final Bledis­loe Cup Test with New Zealand in Brisbane next week.

“I am annoyed because in the end we are trying to run a football pro­gramme and it’s got sidetracked and it’s been sidetracked in many differ­ent ways,” he said.

“It’s frustrating but there is a challenge to try and put that back on track.

“I can’t stop people speculating. It’s me this week, it will be someone else next week, that’s the way it is. I accept that it’s the life in the public domain but you just get on with it.”

Beale has been suspended indefi­nitely while the ARU investigation plays out.

The 47-Test back was last year forced to undergo counselling and rehabilitation for his struggles with alcohol.

McKenzie said he only found out about the text messages, which reportedly contain lewd pictures and date back to June, last week.

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Fiji early favourites for Sevens World Series glory

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Laying down a marker: Fuji (l) are the team to beat.

The excitement is building for rugby sevens fans as the HSBC Sevens World Series kicks off this weekend in Australia’s Gold Coast. And just a matter of weeks later the Series comes to Dubai for one of the most popular events on the Dubai annual sporting and social calendar.

The Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens on December 4-6 is a three day extravaganza featuring a triple threat of rugby, the HSBC Sevens World Series, the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series and the huge invitation tournament which has over 220 teams competing.

There is even more at stake this year with the top four finishers in both the men’s and women’s World Series’ earning a berth at the Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016, when rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut.

With the season now underway early favourites are emerging, with the Oceania Sevens seeing some of the top rugby nations go head to head. Fiji started the year in fine form, winning the Oceania competition convincingly by defeating New Zealand All Blacks Sevens 21-5 in the final.

Fiji finished third in the World Series standings last season, winning in Dubai and Japan. They have flourished under the guidance of coach Ben Ryan, who took over the reigns after a six year stint as England’s Sevens coach.

Despite having lost some of their key players including 2013 IRB Sevens Player of the Year Samisoni Viriviri to more lucrative overseas offers since last season, Ryan has managed to pull together a strong squad which he believes will be a real threat for the overall title this year.

To stem the flow of players offshore to the wealthier rugby nations, Ryan recently introduced professional player contracts with performance incentives and bonus payments and has also managed to attract some converts from the fifteens and rugby league to the game, including talented former league star Eminoni Nasilasila.

"Hopefully we can hit those 150 series points as quickly as we can to be guaranteed that we are on the plane to Rio," Ryan said.

"I'm not going to fall to bits if we don't win the Gold Coast 7s but I still want to see progress and that means having some good victories and playing well."

As the first stop on the Olympics qualifying campaign, there is a lot riding on the Gold Coast Sevens for all teams, and with the announcement of the pool rounds some enthralling matches are on the cards as teams battle for the first points of the Series.

Fiji have drawn Australia in their pool, along with Scotland and Portugal. Australia, under the new leadership of Geraint John, arguably represent the biggest group stage threat to Fiji, and are expected to throw everything at the World Series.  

In a strong Pool A along with New Zealand are this year’s Asian Games champions, Japan, who also won the qualification tournament last month to take a core team place in the series after Spain was dropped last year. Samoa, victors in Dubai in 2012, and an in-form France complete the group.

The danger team in Pool B will be the reigning Commonwealth Games champions South Africa. Also in Pool B are Wales, Kenya and American Samoa.

Pool D features England, Canada, the USA and Argentina.

Tickets for the Dubai tournament will go on sale on 15 October with massive crowds once again expected to attend one of the region’s favourite sporting and social occasions of the year.

For all the information about the event and tickets go to dubairugby7s.com

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