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Rugby News: RA hunting missing million after contract blunder, Suaalii worth 10x more than his deal, McKellar's big win

25th November, 2023
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25th November, 2023
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As Rugby Australia attempts to ease the disquiet around the game and the loss of sponsor Harvey Norman, the governing body is also trying to recoup more than $1 million from the French Rugby Federation from playing Les Bleus on the eve of the World Cup.

Former RA chairman Hamish McLennan was given a verbal agreement from ex-French rugby president Bernard Laporte in 2021 that the Wallabies would earn close to $2m by playing their final Test ahead of the Wallabies against Les Bleus at the Stade de France.

The deal was conjured up after France agreed to tour Australia for a three-match tour against the Wallabies in July, 2021.

But, as French reports detailed on the eve of the Test in August, the deal was never put in writing.

Gabin Villiere scores a try.

Gabin Villiere scores a try against the Wallabies on August 27. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Laporte was forced to stand down as president of the FFR earlier this year after being convicted of corruption and illegally acquiring assets.

His successor Florian Grill, who was appointed in July, told Midi Olympique days before the match that the unions only had an “oral agreement” over the match fee. It left the match on tenterhook.

“On the strength of the words of the Australian leaders, we have discovered an oral agreement for a sum of the order of one million euros or a little less,” Grill told Midi Olympique.

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“The Australian federation therefore wrote to us to collect this sum, plus a percentage on the TV rights. An agreement which would therefore have been given at the time of the old governance. Obviously, it hadn’t been budgeted for.”

France hammered the Wallabies 41-17 as Carter Gordon’s kicking struggles played in front of 80,000.

The heavy loss left Eddie Jones’ side 0-5 heading into their World Cup opener.

Gordon’s inaccuracy from the tee also led to a late backline reshuffle, with Andrew Kellaway dropped to make way for Ben Donaldson, who would also take over the kicking responsibilities.

But the call ultimately backfired against Fiji when Gordon failed to clean up a box kick in their crunch 24-17 loss to Fiji. Kellaway, meanwhile, was left sitting in the stands.

All the while, RA officials were shocked when they received less than $100,000 for playing Les Bleus in August.

Bernard Laporte’s departure as FFR president threw a spanner in the works for RA. (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)

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RA chief executive Phil Waugh told The Sydney Morning Herald in a statement the governing body was still trying to recoup the fee.

“Our conversations with FFR are continuing on this matter – it is not finalised,” Waugh said in a statement to the SMH.

“When a new hierarchy comes into place – as at FFR – it sometimes creates a need to re-engage, which we have done. We are working constructively with the new leadership of FFR to finalise the pre-RWC [Rugby World Cup] match fee.

“The new chair of the FFR, Mr Florian Grill, has been heavily engaged in these discussions – we are looking forward to finalising the payment and continuing our strong relationship with the FFR.”

The revelation comes as RA continues to investigate its blown budget. Before being ousted as chairman, McLennan admitted to Stan that the budget had gone well over what was scheduled.

“Yeah it was a little bit,” McLennan said, before McArdle asked whether the blowout ran into the millions.

“We don’t disclose that but yeah, it did extend the budget… more than we would like.”

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It’s believed the blowout was around $4m over what was forecast, with Jones spending the best part of $1m on psychologists.

Other blunders included moving hotels in Melbourne ahead of the Bledisloe Cup opener, as well as having to charter another plane from Arnhem Land.

The contract blunder comes amid RA’s decision to negotiate an $80m debt facility on a five-year term.

Following last year’s $8.2m surplus, it’s expected RA will announce another deficit at next year’s annual general meeting.

That is in part because the Wallabies played just two home Tests in 2023.

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Wallabies-bound NRL star’s deal to generate 10x what deal is worth

Meanwhile, McLennan says Wallabies-bound Roosters back Joseph Suaalii won’t just star on the field, he will help generate $50m before he plays a match.

There were fears that Suaalii’s deal could fall over by the latest unflattering chapter in RA’s history over the past week, but the rising star is likely to honour his jawdropping $5m deal to switch codes from October 2024.

Outgoing Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who left Australia headed for Japan on Saturday after serving out the final days on his contract, backed the 20-year-old league talent to succeed and applauded his integrity.

“I’ve been playing phone tennis with him all week,” Jones told the SMH.

“I know what he wants to say because he spoke to Hamish and I appreciate it. His actions in calling up says it all about the sort of kid he is. He is quality. He will be right when it comes to his deal. He’s fine.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 30: Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii of the Sydney Roosters during the round five NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Parramatta Eels at Allianz Stadium on March 30, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Former RA chairman Hamish McLennan says Joseph Suaalii will bring in $50m for Australian rugby. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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McLennan, who was the great driver behind Suaalii’s high-profile code switch, said the criticism of his deal was “crazy”.

“I’ve talked to Joseph this week,” McLennan said.

“He was decent enough to give me a call, which is a reflection of the kind of young man that he is – and after our conversation I have no doubt he will take his contract up with RA.

“I initially contacted his family to tell them I was sorry I would not be there when he was coming. When he called, I didn’t ask him about his intentions but he made it clear he wants to honour his deal.

“He has said all along it was his dream to play for the Wallabies and Waratahs, and I will be so delighted when he does. He wants to make a difference to the sport and help out the boys.

“The criticism of him and the deal is crazy. Before he pulls on a jumper he has generated over $50 million worth of publicity for rugby … and the first time he plays for the Waratahs in front of a full house, he pays for himself. It’s a no-brainer.”

McKellar’s timely reminder in the English Premiership

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With RA on the hunt for a new director of high-performance and head coach, Dan McKellar delivered a timely reminder in England.

The first-year Leicester head coach, who moved to the Midlands in July after jumping off Jones’ World Cup ticket in February, had a tough start to the season with several of his stars playing in the World Cup.

But the season is starting to turn around for McKellar, with the Tigers building on their win over Harlequins by going back-to-back away against Gloucester.

On the back of three second-half tries, the Tigers won 38-20.

Springboks stars Handre Pollard and Jasper Wiese were amongst the high-profile players returning from the World Cup throughout the month to help bolster the Tigers’ chances.

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