A week after being linked to a bombshell $1.6 million deal to join the Western Force, negotiations to try and lure Angus Crichton across from the NRL have fallen over.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that RA had tabled an offer to sign the Sydney Roosters back-rower, who was an Australian Schoolboys star, on a deal worth $800,000 per season.
After losing Crichton to South Sydney, RA had always kept an open mind about luring the Schoolboys prodigy back to the XV-player game. Increasingly, RA chairman Hamish McLennan had become bullish about luring the 27-year-old back to rugby.
With the Waratahs midfield stocks strong, as showcased by the performance of Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese against Portugal, the Force, coached by Simon Cron who has long craved a strong ball-running midfielder, had been floated as a home for Crichton.
But after up to three months of negotiations, where multiple deadlines were missed, both parties have ended talks about the back-rower crossing codes.
The report last week that RA had tabled a massive $1.6 million offer at the forward did not go down well with the game’s stakeholders, particularly with the Wallabies struggling at the Rugby World Cup and the entire game being scrutinised with a fine-tooth comb.
It left many influential figures across the Australian rugby landscape, including the Super Rugby franchises, up in arms, particularly with no massive cash injection to land over the coming months after RA shelved their private equity plans recently.
There were also concerns as to how Crichton, who is off contract with the Roosters at the end of 2024 but could have sought an early release, would transition back to rugby and where he would play.
Nonetheless, the falling over of negotiations is a blow to the Force and, indeed, the Wallabies, with the regular State of Origin and World Cup-winning Kangaroos forward one of the NRL’s best for almost a decade.
With Samu Kerevi’s future beyond the World Cup still uncertain, particularly given he is based in Japan and on the cusp of turning 30, Crichton would have added depth to the Wallabies’ midfield less than 24 months out from the British and Irish Lions series.
Already the Wallabies have Crichton’s teammate Joseph Suaalii returning to the XV-player game, with the outside back to join the Waratahs for the 2025 Super Rugby season.
RA chief executive Phil Waugh, who privately remains open to targeted assaults on rugby league players who have played rugby or could add value to the game, said the Wallabies didn’t need to poach more talent from the NRL to be competitive against the British and Irish Lions in 2025.
“I don’t think so,” Waugh told reporters on Monday.
“I think what we need to do is with those players who have just entered their international career [is consider] how do we actually get more competitive games?
“One of the challenges we have with Super Rugby Pacific is we’re probably playing the same style of rugby against New Zealand teams as Australians, what we really miss is that variation which South Africa brought and what northern hemisphere teams bring.
“I think there’s a piece around how do we get a bit more creative in creating opportunities to play against different styles of teams and the British and Irish Lions is going to be a huge challenge when you look at the growth of the north over the last period of time.”
The CEO’s comments came the morning after the Wallabies secured a 34-14 bonus point win over Portugal in their final World Cup Pool C fixture.
While the win saw the Wallabies move into second spot in Pool C, Fiji only need a losing bonus point against Portugal to leapfrog their Pacific neighbours.
Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones said he was proud of the players’ efforts but admitted he was disappointed they weren’t in control of their destiny.
“The disappointment is we haven’t controlled our own destiny,” said Jones, having been asked for his assessment of the entire campaign.
“In a pool stage you want to control your own destiny and we haven’t done that. As I’ve said, I take full responsibility for that.”
Waugh, who took over as RA CEO in June and maintained that a semi-final appearance at the World Cup was the pass mark, said the governing body remained committed to Jones despite being on the cusp of their worst result in the 10 editions of the tournament.
“We’ll do the assessment of the campaign but our intent is to continue on the path that we’re on,” he said.
“I think this is not so much around chopping and changing coaches as it is around actually just fixing the system. I think it’s pretty evident when we lose a couple of players, the depth of the player that we’re bringing through is not necessarily up to it.
“And you’re not going to win World Cups or win international games if you don’t have that depth and system supporting the national team.”