COMMENT: ‘Best interests of the game’? Hamish’s dummy spit proves RA was right to cut him loose

You can’t help imagine that whoever was tasked with writing Hamish McLennan’s Rugby Australia obituary this week revelled in the schadenfreude moment – while not believing a word of it.

“Mr McLennan has always acted in what he genuinely believed was in the best interests of our game, and his resignation today is a demonstration of this,” read the statement from the six unions that wanted him gone, and had won the power battle that saw Dan Herbert installed as replacement.

“It is an honourable decision that recognises his continued service had become a distraction to the game.”

Best interests. Honourable. It took no time at all for McLennan to make a mockery of those words and show he had no intention at all of acting in rugby’s best interests, or doing anything to end the distraction.

Ego is a given for anyone who has risen to the professional heights that McLennan has achieved, so we shouldn’t be surprised by his selfish reaction to the coup, or the commitment to continue fighting a battle that he has already lost.

On Wednesday, McLennan accused Herbert and Queensland Rugby Union Brett Clark of being responsible for a “Queensland takeover” of Rugby 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)

The proof of this, according to McLennan, was a succession of text messages mysteriously “obtained” by his favourite News Corp newspaper, The Australian. (Bet that took some serious digging).

The texts purported to show that Herbert and Clark had been sending messages to McLennan at the same time they were discussing his downfall as RA chairman. To McLennan it appeared to disprove Herbert’s suggestion that he had no intention of running as chairman until after the decision to remove McLennan was finalised on Sunday night.

“I’m profoundly disappointed,” McLennan told The Telegraph of the messages that somehow found their way into the public domain.

“I understand that things happen on boards but the double dealing, two-faced, nature of what’s gone on, it’s quite extraordinary.

“This is well and truly a Queensland takeover. Make no mistake about it.”

The timing of discussions between Herbert and Clark is a moot point. The reality is McLennan had lost control of the numbers and was out the door. What’s happened next, with his reaction to the disappointment, has merely endorsed why many thought he should go – it’s been too much about him, and not enough about the game.

Talking with 2GB the day after he was forced to resign, McLennan said he had “done something for rugby every day for the last three years. And I’ve given them my all.”

Now it seems McLennan is hellbent on doing something every day for himself and his reputation, and rugby and it’s precarious status in Australia, can be damned.

At first he accused rivals of a smear campaign and now this sad state of affairs – the “leaking” of text messages that shows his increasing desperation to win a PR battle after the job he professed to love was prised from his grip.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“Herbie, in an all day meeting. How’d you go with Brett Clarke (sic)? Can you pls text? Hamish.”

“Not good, very icy,” was Herbert’s reply.

That must have stung the ego.

McLennan has been given the chance to act in an honourable way but he has chosen to pile on instead.

Contrast his comments in the past few days to the absolute silence from “Kumbaya” Dave Rennie since his callous removal from the Wallabies coaching job.

There have been vague threats about the Cadbury sponsorship and he has spruiked support from fellow rich listers Andrew and Nicola Forrest, connected Olympics administrator John Coates and former PM John Howard.

A man of “principle”, McLennan also ruled out helping the board in a reduced capacity.

“They can’t lean on me to continue to help on broadcast deals and the Rugby World Cups in Australia, and all the other commercial matters and still expect me to contribute in that regard,” he said.

McLennan added that the vote to remove him was “split”. “I think what’s happened is actually going to create more divisions within rugby, not less as they talk about unity,” McLennan said. Herbert’s response was that the vote was unanimous – except for one – McLennan’s.

His failure to go quietly into the night, or at least give Herbert a few days of clean air, comes as no surprise considering his constant bluster – great for news organisations such as ours but not always in the best interest of his sport.

He called critics of the staggering Joseph Suaalii deal “cry babies”, saw off Andy Marinos, and entered a code war that no one on either side thought made any sense at all.

It looks for all the world that he was duped by Eddie Jones, whom he described on appointing him as “forensic in his approach and tough. He’s tactically a genius in my opinion.”

The longer it goes on it looks like Jones’ “genius” was in playing McLennan for a fool. It certainly wasn’t winning rugby games with England or Australia in the past couple of years.

And how long will McLennan drag this on? How many more text messages are out there waiting to be “obtained” by the paper doing his bidding?

Already we can expect less noise from the chairman’s office.

In a press conference earlier this week Herbert told reporters he wouldn’t be commenting on “players and play contracts and things like that, those will be questions for [CEO Phil Waugh].”

Herbert’s language is more guarded than his predecessor. Along with less noise expect fewer headlines and soundbites. And maybe that’s an immediate downside to this regime change for a game needing to stay relevant.

“My role as a director requires me to have frequent confidential conversations and meeting with various stakeholders,” Herbert told The Australian when asked about McLennan’s private texts.

“I would never breach this confidentiality. I am surprised to see private communications between board members now in the public realm. Rugby faces many challenges and I am focused on tackling this head on.”

Add McLennan’s hubris to the pile.

Meanwhile, McLennan’s demise has been warmly welcomed across the ditch.

Kiwi columnist Mark Reason wrote in Stuff: “Shortly after the announcement, an autopsy revealed that the likely cause of McLennan’s demise was a brass neck which prevented blood from circulating to the brain.

“Rumours of an impromptu champagne party being thrown at the headquarters of New Zealand Rugby have yet to be substantiated, although the bellicose Aussie businessman was known to be about as popular with the leaders of NZR as a rabid possum.”

Changing of the guard: trans-Tasman relations are set for a sea change after Hamish McLennan’s (C) departure. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

He added “the reason NZR’s leadership are joyful” is because they are “desperate” to revitalise Super Rugby in 2026 when the current TV deal expires.

“They need fewer Aussie teams and two or three new teams from the Americas, Japan and even potentially South Africa,” Reason wrote.

“McLennan, despite the financial improvements that he had brought to Australian rugby, would have been a hindrance to such development. Phil Waugh, the CEO of Rugby Australia, is seen as more progressive. Now everyone can move on.”

Well, everyone bar McLennan.

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