Under-siege Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan says he “won’t back down” and has welcomed calls for an Extraordinary General Meeting amid demands from disgruntled member unions to resign.
RA had three emergency board meetings over the weekend to determine their course of action following a letter from six state unions on Friday night calling on McLennan to resign after losing faith in his leadership following a horrible year for the Wallabies.
The letter was signed by the chairmen of the Queensland, ACT, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania state unions.
The NSW Rugby Union, Rugby Victoria and the Rugby Union Players’ Association did not sign the letter.
The Roar understand the NSWRU, who earlier in the week announced they had become the first member union to joined RA’s alignment plan, is meeting at 5pm on Sunday to determine their position.
McLennan was originally given a deadline of 5pm on Saturday to stand aside, but that was pushed back by 24 hours after RA asked for more time to firm up their position.
However, McLennan, who has attempted to usher through reform measures, including centralisation, ever since being asked to step up as chairman in the midst of the Covid pandemic which threatened to see the game return to amateurism, is seemingly digging in and won’t step aside unless he loses the vote at an EGM.
“Bring on an EGM and let’s clear this up once and for all, otherwise the division and backstabbing will continue,” McLennan told The Australian.
“The purpose of the EGM should be a referendum on fixing the constitution and centralisation. This is our moment. If I lose the vote I will happily walk. For those who vote against me, if they lose, they should walk and we’ll unify around fixing the game”.
He also told The Australian Financial Review: “As Tom Petty famously sung, I won’t back down. This a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.”
Even before the Wallabies’ embarrassing pool exit at the Rugby World Cup, some member unions were starting to talk about rolling McLennan after RA attempted to exert pressure to the Super Rugby states about joining their “alignment” goal.
The ACT Brumbies’ anger came as RA sent lawyers and liquidators down to Canberra to try and prove whether the Super Rugby franchise was solvent.
The Wallabies’ car crash of a World Cup, which also saw Eddie Jones quit less than 12 months after he was parachuted into the role at the brutal expense of Dave Rennie, did little to help RA’s desire to get the Super Rugby states to trust the governing body.
Without the rivers of gold from a private equity deal to fall back on too, RA doesn’t have the muscle to fall back on yet despite moving closer to signing a debt deal that will help ease the immediate financial strains engulfing the game.
In light of that, the six member unions believe they have the votes to be able to force McLennan out at an EGM, which must be held within 60 days of being announced.
But, with the NSWRU to lose one of their three votes on January 1 after handing back their license to the governing body, it’s more than likely RA would hold the EGM before Christmas.
McLennan believes the Waratahs, Rebels, the Force and RUPA will vote for him, meaning the embattled chairman must turn one of the rebel state unions to survive. It’s possible, too, that RUPA could abstain from the vote.
South Australia, who were being lined up to have several World Cup fixtures including a pool, are likely to be the state targeted.
After successfully hosting last year’s double header between the Wallaroos and Black Ferns, and Wallabies and Springboks, Adelaide Oval will also host the British and Irish Lions’ exhibition match against a SANZAAR team.
McLennan has some power allies, including Andrew and Nicola Forrest who on Saturday supported the RA chairman.
“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.
“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.”
McLennan was also backed by Cadbury chief executive Darren O’Brien, who came on board because of their close relationship.
“I have enjoyed a very good working relationship the Chairman, the Board and CEO of Rugby Australia and I continue to support their vision, their appreciation of the need for some key reforms and the centralisation road map,” O’Brien told The Australian.
Former Prime Minister John Howard, who worked alongside McLennan to secure the 2027 and 2029 men’s and women’s World Cups, also backed the chairman’s leadership on Sunday and his attempt to usher through centralisation.
“I strongly support Hamish and I agree with the approach he is driving, the centalisation approach,” Mr Howard told The Australian.
“To have any pretension of making an impact with a national sport you’ve got to have a national approach.”
He added: “In my opinion, just as an observer, I know obviously I’m not on the board, and I’m not as close to the administration as other people are but I did have an opportunity of working with Hamish when I was on that bid committee.
“It was a very, very effective group and his contacts in the business community and internationally through his business activities bring an additional value to his leadership.”
“He was a very good chairman and I think he’s done a very good job.”
McLennan said it was important he stand up to the “bullies” who are holding Australian rugby back.
“The RA board should stand firm against the bullies,” he said.
“Three Super Clubs are voting for me while two are against reform. All the money comes from the professional game.”