Rob Clarke is back at Rugby Australia for a good time not a long time, promising a ruthless competition review and to stamp out the “factions and frustrations” that have plagued the code as interim CEO.
Clarke, who has served as CEO of both the Rebels and Brumbies, accepted the short-term post from executive chairman Paul McLean on Wednesday night, almost two weeks after Raelene Castle vacated the chair.
The former Australian Rugby Union chief operating officer won’t vie for the full-time gig though, which could still fall the way of Australian Olympic Committee boss Matt Carroll despite his friend and would-be chairman Peter Wiggs’ resignation earlier on Wednesday.
Clarke will oversee the code’s return to the field – ideally in July – while also addressing Rugby Australia’s financial woes and conducting a “complete review” of Super Rugby in 2020 and beyond.
But first he must resuscitate an administration that has taken hits from outside and in since he last worked there three years ago.
In the days before Castle’s demise, 11 former Wallabies captains publicly demanded swift administrative change, while in the latest ugly episode Wiggs’ dramatic exit was detailed in an email exchange with McLean published in The Australian.
Describing himself as “open and transparent”, Clarke said he understood the challenges that came with the job and was ready to face them again.
“I know every one of those captains personally, worked in the game with many of them and some of them I would count as friends,” Clarke told AAP.
“I don’t think they’ll have a problem in letting me know what their thoughts are and I’ll have an open ear.
“But my approach with everybody will be, let’s take it out of the public domain and communicate constructively around a table and get some plans in place, as opposed to just highlighting issues, which is easy to do.
“We have to unify our game and the factions and frustrations that go with that just impede progress.”
A Super Rugby devoid of South African and Argentinian sides has been a common concept floated by current and former Australian players and coaches since the coronavirus epidemic halted the current season.
SANZAAR are standing firm in their long-term ambition of a widespread 14-team league that includes South Africa and Argentina.
But Clarke, key in the decision to remove the Western Force from the competition, said nothing was off the table as cash-strapped Rugby Australia hunts a new broadcast deal.
“The old adage in business of never wasting a crisis is very apposite for our game now,” he said.
“There is definitely cause for a complete review and looking at those structures through a fresh lens.
“If there’s a better time to do it I don’t know what it would be.”
Wiggs walked after his push to become chairman and fast-track Carroll as CEO alongside him was shut down by his fellow board members.
The board’s move was supported in a letter signed by all the state chairs of Australian rugby on Wednesday night, except for NSW chairman Roger Davis, who had endorsed Wiggs for the chair just 24 hours earlier.