It is with great pleasure we post the following opinion piece from G&GR stalwart, legend and frustrated rugby fan, Mr Hugh Cavill. Take it away Hugh.
There’s an old saying that people like to roll out at times like this: the night is always darkest before the dawn. But I’m here to tell you that while it’s pretty damned dark, don’t expect the sun any time soon. Why? The people that got us into this mess are still behind the wheel, despite them telling us otherwise.
What we actually need is a CEO who is devoid of any links to the old boys network, someone with a background in sports administration who can use best practice to get us on the right path. The problem is, we had one, well, actually we had two. And their stories typify the approach that has led us here. They’re worth revising because I think they’ve been a bit lost in this week’s post mortem.
Raelene Castle wasn’t the messiah; she wasn’t a flawless CEO by any stretch. She did, however, get more than a few things right. She severed the decaying relationship between the code and Fox Sports and put in motion a move to Nine/Stan (announced just after her departure). She initiated the 2027 World Cup bid. She installed Dave Rennie as Wallaby coach, and it was reported this week in that process due diligence was carried out on appointing Eddie Jones but it was deemed too much of a risk. But more than that, Castle had the nerve to suggest that the pathways that won us World Cups in 1991 and 1999 may not be fit for purpose in 2020.
And the story from here may be familiar to you, but it’s worth repeating.
She was attacked viciously in the News Corp press (I haven’t forgotten the continual efforts of
Jessica Halloran and Jamie Pandaram and nor should you), ably assisted by leakers from within
Rugby Australia and RUPA. She was publicly harangued by former players, which came to a head when a letter signed by 11 former captains calling for her resignation was leaked to a journalist (guess who). And let’s not let those 11 live in anonymity – they were Phil Kearns, Nick Farr-Jones, Simon Poidevin, Rod McCall, George Smith, Nathan Sharpe, Stephen Moore, George Gregan, Stirling Mortlock, Jason Little and Michael Lynagh.
In that letter they requested the current administration “heed our call and stand aside to allow the game to be transformed”. They didn’t specify why exactly, beyond broad statements about poor governance and a ‘lost connection’ to the grassroots. They got their way. Castle left and the old guard rejoiced.
After a short interim tenure by Rob Clarke, the Rugby Australia board appointed Andy Marinos to the CEO position. Marinos is Zimbabwean by descent, was capped for Wales and had served as CEO of SANZAAR, another outsider with a background in sports administration. Marinos continued Castle’s and Clarke’s work, signing a new CBA and implementing reform that saw RA’s finances return to the black for the first time in many years.
But, he butted heads with Chairman Hamish McLennan behind the scenes; he moved too slowly, he was too methodical, he was reluctant to spend big money on rugby league players. So his sudden desire to resign earlier this year can be viewed with a healthy degree of scepticism. We’ve seen this playbook before.
And now in comes Phil Waugh after yet another ‘global search’. A previous board member (no word from the 11 captains on his appointment despite him being a central figure in the administration they wanted to stand aside, funny that) and a Shore old boy who played for Sydney University, the Waratahs and Wallabies. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Phil Waugh. I went to Shore and dreamed of playing for the Waratahs and Wallabies (the myopic view of selectors at every level saw me continually overlooked, stymieing one of the great careers before it had the chance to begin. But in the words of the great Lee Grant, I digress).
It’s impossible to see Waugh as an agent of change when he’s the very definition of the status quo for rugby in this country. Privately educated, Sydney raised with no background in sports
administration beyond various boards and committees. McLennan is the same.
Make no mistake, it’s people with Waugh and McLennan’s background and perspective that led us here. The two people with the skillset to lead us out of this mess were moved on because they didn’t fit the mould. They didn’t speak the language of the old guard, the old blokes in the club room at Coogee Oval at 3:00 o’clock on a Saturday arvo. These people think they’re the game in this country and they have the people behind them. They think the answer is to do the things we did in 1991 because that worked. They were all there and they all saw it.
Look at the language used when they sacked Rennie and appointed Eddie Jones: “Eddie’s deep
understanding of our rugby system and knowledge of our player group and pathways will lift the team to the next level… Eddie instinctively understands the Australian way of playing rugby.” In other words, he’s one of us. Once again this approach has failed us, but they aren’t willing to hear it. They have people behind them, up to the gates of Coogee Oval that is. There’s a great, big, wide world beyond them they are blissfully unaware of, a world of women and public schools and regional footy and a rusted on fanbase waking up and checking the score instead of setting an alarm for 1:00am like they used to do.
Until they surrender their grip on the game we’ll see no change. The status quo will continue and I’ll see you all here in two years’ time after we go down 3-0 to the Lions.
Or maybe I won’t see you at all.