“We have been looking after the Aussies for years,” Hansen said. “Every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.
“Do we owe them something? No.”
Despite a perception Australia did the wrong thing by New Zealand, an independent inquiry commissioned by the New Zealand Rugby Union and published by Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, absolved O’Neill and the ARU of any blame.
“I’ll paraphrase the conclusions; the NZRU shot themselves in the foot,” O’Neill told the Herald. “Rugby World Cup and the International Rugby Board [IRB] had particular conditions about clean stadia and you either had to comply or lose the hosting rights.
“Yes, the terms and conditions for hosting may well have been onerous … but in our language, like it or lump it. New Zealand Rugby – through arrogance and hubris – thought they could force the IRB and Rugby World Cup to change the rules. They didn’t. Judge Eichelbaum’s words about me were that I did no more than act in the best interests of Australian rugby.
“New Zealand Rugby at the time got rid of the board who stuffed it up. They got rid of the CEO, [chief operating officer] Steve Tew stayed on and later in 2007 became the CEO. Steve was No.2 to David Rutherford and he remains one of Steve Hansen’s best friends.
“Steve [Hansen] can make as many comments about rugby as he wants … but in this case he was not in the vicinity and it’s part of the game he wouldn’t know anything about. If he lumps that in the category as an example of Australia letting New Zealand down or going missing, that doesn’t stack up.
“The host union for 2003 was the ARU … New Zealand was the sub-host. There was an agreement where the host and the sub-host had to sign and it had certain pretty onerous conditions attached to it. The ARU signed up … New Zealand did sign it, but sent it through with all the clauses they didn’t like crossed out. It was null and void.
“The ARU were told you will have to re-bid for the entire tournament. We did. We were told if we didn’t re-bid for the whole lot then there were nations like France waiting in the wings. We blew them out of there water with a compelling bid and the rest is history.
“It was an enormous controversy, up there with the underarm bowling incident, but the New Zealand Rugby board did not take responsibility for the extent their constituents thought they should.”
O’Neill, who was grateful McLennan reached out for advice, believes that isn’t the way to go.
“I don’t agree with it,” O’Neill said. “Ever since Australia hosted the World Cup on its own in 2003 … the template is one country. When England hosted it in 2015, it was just in England. Sharing it around doesn’t work. I know that might be a bargaining chip [for a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition] but I’d separate that out.
“The success of 2003 was that we had all 48 games in Australia.
“It’s ours to lose. I wish Hamish every success in the world. I told him I’m available for a conversation at any time but I do have a long corporate memory and I know there are some rabbit holes that you shouldn’t go down because we’ve been down them before.”
O’Neill can’t believe New Zealanders are still upset by what happened nearly two decades ago.
“It’s absolutely absurd. Move on,” O’Neill said. “Brinkmanship only gets you so far.
“It would be foolish to say Steve [Tew] and I had a close relationship. It was a particularly sensitive matter for Steve, not for me, and it is what it is. You can’t re-write history to serve your own purpose.”
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald