Update: Australian rugby is in a state of crisis, with embattled Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan asking for a 24 hour extension before a decision is made on his future.
Less than 24 hours after six RA member unions called on McLennan to resign, the board scrambled to discuss the circus surrounding the leadership of the national union on Saturday morning.
McLennan, crucially, was not invited to the first meeting on Saturday morning, The Roar can reveal.
It’s believed McLennan was invited to a second board meeting later that afternoon at 5:30pm AEDT, with the chairman asking for an extension before the board determines their course of action.
It’s understood the board is divided in their opinion over whether McLennan should go, with several powerful allies coming out to defend the chairman including Andrew and Nicola Forrest as well as former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns.
The six member unions have urged McLennan to fall on his sword, citing a lack of confidence in his leadership following one of the the nation’s most tumultuous years since the game turned professional, which culminated in the Wallabies failing to progress out of the pool stage of a World Cup for the first time.
“We, the undersigned Member Unions of Rugby Australia, are calling for the Chair, Hamish McLennan, to immediately resign as Chair and Director of Rugby Australia,” a letter from the six dissenting members unions read to McLennan and the RA board.
“We do not believe Mr McLennan has been acting in the best interests of our game.
“We no longer have any trust or faith in his leadership, or the direction in which he is taking rugby in Australia.
“Additionally, we believe Mr McLennan has been acting outside his role as a director, exerting an undue influence on the operations and executives of Rugby Australia.
“This is not the best practice governance that we expect from leaders in our game.
“Should Mr McLennan not resign, this letter serves as notice for Directors to convene an Extraordinary General Meeting at the earliest possible opportunity, as per clause 4.1c of the Rugby Australia Constitution.”
McLennan was encouraged to resign on Friday evening, with Queensland Rugby Union chairman Brett Clark calling the embattled RA chair to tell him he had lost support.
The dissenting six member unions believe they have the numbers to vote McLennan out unless he walks, with the QRU, ACT Rugby, Rugby WA, NT Rugby, Tasmania Rugby and South Australia Rugby calling on change.
The NSW Rugby Union, Rugby Victoria and RUPA did not sign the letter, while Western Force backer Andrew Forrest, as first reported by The Roar, has pledged his support to McLennan.
“Hamish is steering rugby through a very difficult period from the complete mess that he inherited,” a statement provided by the Forrests to The Australian read.
“Yes, we would have all preferred a win at the World Cup, but this is not going to happen unless we rebuild national rugby from the grassroots up.
“As the community grassroots investment starts to feed through, we look forward to much better results in the years ahead.
“Now is not the time for more disruption in the sport, but a time for rugby to band together and back the proposed centralisation reforms.
“We support the efforts Hamish and the existing board are making to centralise high performance and improve governance to ensure Australian rugby administration is focused on what’s best for the game, its players and fans.”
Rugby Victoria however is divided.
While the member union did not sign the initial letter, it’s believed they are seriously considering backing the rebels’ push to oust McLennan.
RA Chief executive Phil Waugh attempted to stay out of the fray earlier in the week when asked by The Roar whether the RA board could build trust whilst McLennan was chairman.
“That’s not for me to answer as CEO. We’ve got the appropriate governance around the game and I think this is a really good step forward,” he said.
“We’re making good progress across the strategic direction.”
McLennan led the charge to sack Dave Rennie at the start of the year to bring back Eddie Jones to spearhead the Wallabies’ World Cup year.
He also was the key figure involved in luring NRL sensation Joseph Suaalii to Rugby Australia, with the 20-year-old drawn in by a mega multimillion dollar, three-year deal.
Both decisions, particularly in light of the Wallabies’ World Cup failure and Jones’ sensational resignation, have come back to haunt him.
The inability to get a much-talked about private equity deal across the line, as well as usher through reform measures such as centralisation, have added to the destabilisation across the Australian rugby landscape.
“This is divisive by nature and pits state against state, parochialism over unity and centralisation,” McLennan told The Roar on Friday.
McLennan was catapulted into the chairmanship in the middle of the Covid pandemic, as the RA leadership was blown up.
He was a vital figure in RA securing its $29 million broadcast deal across the line after it had fallen flat under the leadership of Castle, who had turned down $45m from Foxtel and taken the package to market expecting Optus to go after it hard.
But Optus turned down pursuing rugby, leaving the game on the cusp of going under.
McLennan also helped RA secure the 2027 men’s Rugby World Cup and 2029 women’s World Cup.