In yet another dramatic day in Australian rugby, Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has been replaced by Daniel Herbert on Sunday night.
After two days of emergency meetings, Herbert won out over McLennan to take the position of chair.
McLennan was asked if he wanted to stay on the RA board but the businessman, who was asked to come on as chairman at the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020, turned it down.
“Best of luck everyone,” McLennan told The Australian. “What a shame.”
In a text to The Roar he added: “Thanks [rugby] for the memories.”
Herbert won the World Cup with the Wallabies in 1999 and served as the Queensland Reds general manager last decade.
The former hard-running centre lost out to Richard Barker in becoming QRU CEO in 2016 on a split vote. With the votes tied, former Wallaby turned QRU chairman Damien Frawley picked Barker.
Herbert was elected onto the RA board in 2020 and, alongside new chief executive Phil Waugh, was on the rugby committee over the past three years.
The duo have influenced decision-making regarding high-performance decisions over the past 12 months, but it’s believed Herbert particularly questioned the decision to throw a multi-million dollar deal at NRL sensation Joseph Suaalii.
Herbert said it was vital RA continue its path to reform.
“It has never been more important for the Rugby Australia board, working with Member Unions, to come together and execute the reform we absolutely need for an aligned high-performance system and to deliver on the commitments we have made, including to invest in Community and Women’s Rugby,” Herbert said in a statement.
“Australia will host the British and Irish Lions Tour in 2025, the Men’s 2027 Rugby World Cup and the Women’s 2029 Rugby World Cup and the 2032 Olympic Games – the reform we progress now will underpin the competitiveness of our national teams, as well as building deeper engagement with the Rugby community and fans everywhere.”
“We note that the different Member Unions are not opposing Rugby Australia’s centralisation proposals and remain committed to supporting high performance alignment.”
The decision to oust McLennan came 48 hours after Queensland Rugby Union chairman Brett Clark phoned his counterpart and asked him to resign.
Later that night, six member unions wrote a letter requesting McLennan step aside, citing a lack of confidence in his leadership.
“We do not believe Mr McLennan has been acting in the best interests of our game,” the letter read.
“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.”
As well as leading the charge to bring back Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach to spearhead their 2023 World Cup campaign, McLennan attempted to usher through reform changes, including implementing a centralised model.
While all five Super Rugby franchises have agreed in principle to RA’s high performance plans, the national body has faced difficulties to convince all parties to jump on board with all the details yet to be ironed out.
Some, including the ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds, don’t want to hand over commercial control to RA either.
Earlier this week, the NSW Rugby Union became the first member union to sign up for RA’s alignment plan. It came with NSW financially in huge strife.
The six rebel member unions said their letter calling for change was not in response to RA’s reform measures but the lack of confidence in McLennan.
“This request is not about opposition to Rugby Australia’s centralisation proposals– we remain committed to supporting high-performance alignment,” the letter continued.
“This is instead a deep concern about the performance of Mr McLennan as Chair, and the damage done to the game by his performance.”
Several influential figures, including Andrew and Nicola Forrest as well as Cadbury boss Darren O’Brien, came out in support of McLennan over the past 48 hours.
“Hamish is steering rugby through a very difficult period from the complete mess that he inherited,” the Forrests said in a statement to The Australian.
“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…
“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.”
Speaking on Sydney radio station 2GB on Monday morning, McLennan labelled the letter as “rubbish” and said it was a “cheap shot”.
“I think this is all about money and control at the end of the day, so we’ll see how it plays out. I just think there’s no doubt there’s been a co-ordinated campaign to smear me,” he said.
McLennan added that he believed his ousting would create more division within Rugby Australia, not less.
“I’m philosophical. It doesn’t matter. No one died at the end of the day, and it’s just a game. At the end of that important one, and one that I love,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, there’s a war going on in Ukraine, there’s a war between Israel and Hamas. And that’s real stuff that really matters.”
Respected Australian rugby coaching figure Laurie Fisher said it was time for the game to “unite and move forward” after the dramatic year.
New Zealand Rugby will welcome the outcome of a leadership change after having a hostile relationship with McLennan.
But Herbert and Waugh have a huge task ahead of them, with a new Wallabies coach and director of high performance needed to be appointed over the coming months.
RA is also hoping to secure its debt deal over the next fortnight.
Perhaps the biggest priority of all is ensuring they get a stronger broadcast deal, with RA only getting $29 million a year from Nine Entertainment/Stan.