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The final betrayal that caused Castle to crumble

The answer from McLean on Thursday morning was ‘no’. What the respected former Wallabies captain meant was ‘nothing in the next 48 hours’.

What is now clear, acknowledge by McLean and confirmed by another board source, was that the interim chairman and the seven other non-executive directors – Phil Waugh, Pip Marlow, Hayden Rorke, John Wilson, Daniel Herbert, Peter Wiggs and Brett Godfrey – had decided it was time to move on Castle during a conference call the night before.

But Castle, satisfied with her chairman’s reassurance the next morning, recorded the interview at Rugby Australia’s Moore Park headquarters, wrapping up at about 4.15pm on Thursday, in the belief she had the board’s backing.

She spoke to presenter Leigh Sales about the damaging letter signed by 10 Wallabies captains, calling for sweeping change, that had dropped on Monday night and eclipsed RA’s closing of a time-buying pay deal with the game’s 192 professional players.

Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean.

Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean.

She deflected a question about the relentless criticism levelled at her over her gender, nationality and appearance, chalking it up to the rough and tumble of sports administration.

And she spoke, somewhat elegiacally, about the impending arrival of new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie: “He will come here regardless of where I sit but I would certainly like the opportunity to work with him because together I think we can deliver some really great outcomes.”

Castle will not get that chance. She finished the interview and was confronted by a raft of media enquiries, to her directly and to RA’s corporate affairs boss Michael Earsman, asking whether she was aware of the board’s intention to sack her within the next week.

She was not, the message came back to the Herald, and was not aware the non-executive directors had met on Wednesday night.

Alarm bells rang at 5pm when Castle did not join an important conference call with the Super Rugby chairmen, Wiggs and chief financial officer Simon Rabbitt, that had been called to give the states their first look at RA’s 2019 financials and cash position and forecasts. No one could explain her absence.

She was on the phone to McLean again, asking him to explain whether the media knew something she didn’t. This time, the chairman levelled with her.

Wednesday night’s call had resolved that it was time for fresh leadership, but had not finalised a time frame to make that happen and, crucially, did not have a plan for who would take her place. They were planning to talk to Castle early next week to let her know their thinking.

Castle, hurt that the board had allowed her to record the ABC interview – it ended up going to air with a preamble including the chief executive’s resignation statement – wanted to take control. She told McLean she was resigning.

“In the last couple of hours it has been made clear to me that the board believes my no longer being the CEO would help give them the clear air they believe they need,” she said in a statement. “The game is bigger than any one individual – so this evening I told the chair that I would resign from the role. I will do whatever is needed to ensure an orderly handover.”

The source told the Herald that most of the directors wanted it noted that the Wallabies captains’ letter had nothing to do with their decision to move on Castle.

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But, with the RUPA pay deal locked away, securing more than $12 million in savings on player wages over the next two quarters, and a World Rugby loan application all but granted, it was felt the organisation could start looking beyond September and to what a rebuild might look like.

As McLean said on Friday morning: “…in a normal circumstance without the things that happened in the last two years and some of the unwarranted criticisms and bullying, I think it might have been a different scenario. At the end of the day the board has to make a decision about how the game can progress and if there was a clearer pathway to doing that, we needed to take that pathway because we represent and manage the whole of the game.”

The “last two years” was likely a reference to the Israel Folau saga, which broke three months into Castle’s time at Moore Park and all but swallowed up the game for much of the next 18 months.

Raelene Castle at the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne in December.

Raelene Castle at the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne in December.Credit:AAP

There was also a feeling that the virus outbreak and the ensuing shutdown presented the board with an opportunity to reshape the structure of the game in Australia, from competitions to governance.

Castle’s admirable determination to take all the bullets fired at the organisation over the past two years had left her irreparably damaged, they felt. It was time to find a replacement. It was only a pity they did not save Castle from one last humiliation, finding out from the media her days were numbered.

On Friday Castle could not be drawn on her final days, telling the Herald “none of this (raking over the coals) helps the game”.

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