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'I'm not a quitter': Under-siege RA chair won't follow Jones, blames 'broken system' for chaos

29th October, 2023
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29th October, 2023
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PARIS – Eddie Jones might be gone, but Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan won’t be handing in his resignation.

“I’m not a quitter,” McLennan told The Roar.

Less than 24 hours after the World Cup final, Australian rugby once again exploded back into the limelight on Sunday as Jones resigned.

The veteran coach’s decision to wave the white flag and walk away from the Wallabies coaching job came just 10 months into a five-year deal.

“No money, no strategy,” Jones told The Sydney Morning Herald as to why he was abandoning ship.

“The changes we agreed cannot be done as we planned, so I don’t believe I can make the difference we need.”

Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones has resigned. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

As The Roar has reported, those changes come down to RA’s failure, in the short-term, to secure a much-needed cash windfall from private equity, nor high-performance alignment. Both aspects were assured would come through before Jones returned in mid-January.

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By resigning, Jones won’t be paid out.

His departure came less than a month after the Wallabies’ first World Cup pool exit was confirmed.

After replacing Dave Rennie on January 16, a week after the Wallabies’ first camp of the year, Jones won just two of nine Tests in charge – against Georgia and Portugal.

McLennan, supported by the RA board, led the drive to secure Jones’ services after the 63-year-old was sacked after seven years in charge of England by the Rugby Football Union. Jones finished with a win record of 73 per cent – England’s highest winning percentage – as he took the 2003 world champions to the 2019 World Cup final.

Fearing the Australian coach would join the United States of America or Japan if they didn’t swoop on Jones, McLennan parachuted him into the role.

In happier times: Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan with Wallabies coach Eddie Jones in January. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

McLennan said he felt sad for Jones but reiterated his belief that Australian rugby needed change.

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“It’s all very amicable with Eddie and I’ll always be grateful for him jumping in when he did,” McLennan told The Roar.

“Like Michael Cheika, another great Aussie coach heads to another country.

“Don’t channel your anger to Eddie, channel it to the system that needs changing. We’ve been saying Australian rugby needs to centralise and now is the time to do it.

“Despite what the sceptics say, with the Lions in 2025 and the World Cups in 2027 (men’s) and 2029 (women’s), we’ll be financially fine. The question is whether the rugby community will change to a centralised model and grasp the opportunity?

“We haven’t won the Bledisloe in 22 years. What more evidence do you need? The system is broken.”

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With Jones gone, McLennan is facing pressure to follow him out the door having led the charge to bring him back to Australian rugby.

The RA chair, who answered the game’s call in the months after the Covid pandemic brought it to its knees and left it in grave peril of going under without a broadcast deal in place and sponsors leaving, has attempted to implement reform changes over the past three years.

Those reform measures include constitutional reform and high-performance and commercial alignment.

McLennan, a former News Corp executive and Channel 10 boss, insisted he was the right person to continue as RA chair.

“Yeah, I do,” he said.

“I want the game to be fixed. I know more about what needs to be done than ever before. 

“You guys can write that you think I should be shot, I don’t care. My life goes on. I’m not a quitter.”

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Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh (R) and Chairman Hamish McLennan. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

While NSW Rugby has signed up to RA’s plan, others, including the ACT Brumbies, have criticised the governing body’s leadership and decision to withhold money and try to lead them to the cliff so that they are forced to sign up to their plan.

Despite having a number of enemies on either side of the ditch, McLennan still has several supporters across the Australian rugby landscape for his willingness to roll up his sleeves and be decisive.

That extends to former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, as well as South Africa Rugby president Mark Alexander, who was pivotal in transforming the Springboks over the past half-a-decade.

“There’s nothing’s wrong with Australian rugby. You have the players there that can deliver but you need to make one or two tweaks,” Alexander told News Corp last week.

“You have a chairman that understands business and a CEO who knows the game so now is not the time to play the blame game.

“In 2016, South Africa was in a really dark place … and that was our wake up call to start doing things very differently.

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“We had a broken system that we had to fix and it took time, but I think it’s bearing fruit now.

“I think Rugby Australia will turn things around because you have the manpower and the right people there but you need to back them and not waste a good crisis.”

Jones, who has coached at five World Cups and led the Brumbies to their first Super Rugby title in 2001, told News Corp that the under-siege chairman was not the issue and reiterated his belief Australian rugby needed to change and support McLennan’s vision.

“The problem is not Hamish, the problem I believe, is in the talent identification and the high performance system and if they can concentrate on that there’s a pathway forward to the much better times for Australian rugby,” Jones said.

“Hamish has got a pretty good idea of what needs to be done. He just can’t do it at the moment. We’re not in disagreement about what needs to be done but he’s got all the political obstacles, he’s got financial obstacles. And it just can’t be done in time. And so I’m not just going to sit at the trough and accept all that, that’s it, I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that.

“While Hamish definitely wants to change it, he’s been bullish in trying to bring Australian rugby up.

“He’s gone out; got the World Cups and the British Lions has fallen in his lap because timing, he’s put that big picture in front at the top end, what hasn’t been done is this drive of the nuts and bolts which is the high performance of it and the connection between the levels.”

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Jones added that RA was right to be headhunting a new head of high-performance to oversee the entire program.

“That’s the thing that’s missing and what they need and they are advertising for it now,” Jones said.

“They need the best performance director that they can find in Australia to put that system in place and to drive it and to be obsessed by it. They need someone in there that is absolutely obsessed about doing it. You look at all the NRL clubs, you know Gus Gould did it at Penrith. He said it would take them five years, it took him 10 years. Look what’s happened now, he’s doing the same at Canterbury.”

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