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RA's manic Monday and how it will shape the future of the Australian game

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Expert
12th March, 2024
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The Wallabies aren’t playing a Test match on April 29, and there are no Super Rugby matches on that day either. But the last Monday in April is shaping up as a defining day in the future of Australia rugby.
How so?

April 29 is when Rugby Australia holds its annual general meeting. AGMs are usually pretty staid and procedural affairs. The tea and biscuits afterwards are often the highlight for those who bother to turn up to observe proceedings.

But the Rugby Australia AGM certainly won’t be boring, due to the gravity of what’s on the line. The mood of the room will decide whether a new broom will sweep through the Rugby Australia board room, or, alternatively, if the current board will be entrusted in steering Australian rugby thorough its current on and off-field malaise.

The Super Rugby franchises and state unions who have the voting power to determine the outcome of the April 29 AGM have already vented their collective anger, forcing the hand of the board to oust chairman Hamish McLennan.

The question now – which will no doubt have the same directors who punted McLennan on edge – is whether the angry mob is baying for even more blood.

The biggest agenda item at the AGM will be voting on the three directors of Rugby Australia who are up for re-election. Those three, who need a two-thirds majority to keep their board seats, are Matthew Hanning, Karen Penrose and Jane Wilson. There will also be a vote to fill the two board vacancies left by McLennan and Phil Waugh (following his move from a director to chief executive).

Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan talks during The Rugby Championship 2021 Fixture announcement at Parliament House on September 24, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Former Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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So all up, five positions to be filled around the Rugby Australia board table, where all the big decisions regarding the future of rugby in this country will be made. The board also gets to appoint the chairman, a role filled by Dan Herbert (who doubles as a director) since McLennan’s departure.

All of which means there is potential for a wholesale clean-out of the Rugby Australia board if the Super Rugby franchises and state unions want more scalps than just McLennan’s. If the angry mob do maintain their democratic rage at the AGM, you’d have to think the three other Rugby Australia directors not facing re-election – Herbert, Brett Godfrey and Pip Marlow – might also be nervously glancing over their shoulders.

The two-day summit held by Rugby Australia in Melbourne last week was an opportunity for Waugh, Herbert, president Joe Roff and the board to schmooze the heads of those Super Rugby franchises and state unions ahead of next month’s all-important AGM vote, and to argue the current board is best qualified to revive the code in Australia.

Newly appointed Rugby Australia Chair Daniel Herbert poses for a portrait during a press conference at GPS Rugby Club on November 20, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

One vote they won’t be able to rely on at the AGM is that of the Victorian Rugby Union, after VRU president Neil Hay was barred from attending the summit in his own backyard amid legal threats against the Rugby Australia board from the Melbourne Rebels.

Like government elections at a federal, state or local level, the factions within Australian rugby will no doubt be crunching the numbers ahead of the upcoming director nomination deadline in the hope of parachuting their favoured nominees into Moore Park.

However, not all the nominees eyeing off the two board vacancies left by Waugh and McLennan – or to replace Hanning, Penrose and Wilson if they are not re-elected – will make it onto the ballot papers. That’s because Rugby Australia’s nominations committee has sole discretion in vetting the names put forward.

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What’s more, there is no provision for the Super Rugby franchises and state unions to send the nominations committee’s decisions upstairs for TMO review.

One thing that has raised a few eyebrows in the current state of unease is that the nominations committee is chaired by Herbert. The three others on the nominations committee sharing the power and influence to shape the Rugby Australia board are Marc L’Huillier, John Sharp and Kathy Hirschfield.

Of course, given the current state of Australian rugby, some potential candidates may choose to sit and watch from the sidelines as the post-AGM Rugby Australia board grapples with headaches like sorting out its own parlous financial state, the threat of civil war from the recalcitrant Rebels, the fallout from the report into the Wallabies’ World Cup failings/Eddie Jones fiasco, and trying to keep the rest of Australia’s Super Rugby teams financially upright without actually giving them any more money.

So, as the Bangles sang, April 29 is shaping up as just another manic Monday.

It’s not all bad though. There is, after all, still the tea and biscuits after the AGM to look forward to.

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