Rather, it bitterly criticises the whole operation. It calls upon the current board and administration to stand down, go away and throw the keys to a new crew as yet unnamed – with the promise that those who go might be allowed back if they go quietly – but very likely involving some of those very same signatories.
“In recent times, the Australian game has lost its way,” these Wallabies captains said. “It is a defeat inflicted not by COVID-19, or an on-field foe, but rather by poor administration and leadership over a number of years. We speak as one voice when we say Australian rugby needs new vision, leadership and a plan for the future. That plan must involve, as a priority, urgent steps to create a much-needed, sustainable, commercial rugby business.”
This, as it turns out, was just the warm-up before the main game.
“It is with this in mind we ask the current administration to heed our call and stand aside to allow the game to be transformed so we emerge from this pandemic with a renewed sense of unity and purpose. There is only one question that needs to be answered at club level, at state level and at national level: Is this decision in the best interests of Australian rugby?”
These are singularly good men, with only the best interests of Australian rugby at heart. I know and admire every man-jack of them. But if your starting point is what is in the best interests of Australian rugby, can I, gentlemen, refer you to the words of Sir John Kirwan a fortnight ago when the first flurry of criticism from famed Wallabies made it into the public domain. Tell ’em what you said, Sir John: “They should be working together. As ex-All Blacks, we very rarely go outside with our criticism before we’ve said it inside … Some of these famous ex-Wallabies maybe need to knock on [Raelene Castle’s] door or have a Zoom, and just say, ‘These are my concerns and these are my solutions’.”
Bingo. I – and I might add the many Wallabies captains I talked to on Wednesday who refused to sign – concur with that sentiment.
The letter is seriously long on complaint and singularly short on solutions.
Australian rugby has lost its way? Absolutely. As a game we are, as the saying goes, on the bones of our arse and make rugby league’s finances look like they have the glowing, rosy red cheeks of good health. I have urged Rugby Australia to put more money into the grassroots game and less into the professional end, and have been saying so for 25 years. But blow the whole thing up? Publicly say that the value of any broadcast deal is unbankable? Imply that the people running the show don’t have the first clue what they are doing?
How is that helping? How does this fit with “acting in the best interests of Australian rugby?”
And how is it fair to the good rugby people of recent times who have given their all to get the game back on track? Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean is as good a man as you’d find in six days march in any direction, with great and proven business acumen. Ditto recent board members like John Eales, Brett Robinson and current member Phil Waugh. Double ditto recent chairman Cameron Clyne, who is rugby to the marrow of his bones, a former CEO of NAB, who, like all of them, did the job for nothing but a love of the game.
At a time when these fine rugby people are circling the wagons, what is the angle in setting those wagons alight? I can’t see it.
Solutions they offered?
I couldn’t see any of those either – but it would surprise me if it included a starting point of burning the said circled wagons.
The one demand they made was “for the game’s finances to be made available at a special general meeting no later than April 30.”
In receipt of the letter including that demand at 3.04pm on Tuesday, McLean replied at 4.19pm saying, very mildly, no need to wait that long.
“I have received the letter (and happy to share with our board), and would invite this group to meet with RA at any time to interrogate all the materials they wish, as encapsulated in points 1. and 2. of your letter. RA is happy to supply this information without the need for you to request it via the media. I would welcome the signatories at any time, to discuss any of these matters.”
He never heard back and the letter went public anyway.
It will go down as one more upsetting episode in a very upsetting era for rugby. In the meantime, my deepest admiration goes to the likes of McLean – a former Wallabies captain – who soldiers on, giving an even greater service to the game now than he did on the field. What he and his administration deserve right now is support. Rugby has indeed lost its way. But the way back needs unity, not public squabbling.
Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.