McLennan and Clarke took great umbrage at NZR’s offer of two Super Rugby teams in a new-look, COVID-affected competition. The pair sat in the RA boardroom and discussed how they would respond for the best part of 30 minutes.
Clarke later labelled the offer an ‘expression of insolence’. In the post-O’Neill world, RA had not taken on NZR in such public fashion.
And so began the deterioration of a relationship over the last 12 months which finally hit breaking point when the All Blacks delayed the final Bledisloe.
In hindsight, RA would have put the Wallabies on the first flight back from Auckland after the first Test at Eden Park, rather than accommodate New Zealand’s request to play back-to-back matches at their favourite ground.
“No team has won at Eden Park since 1994, including the world champion Springboks,” he said.
“We did the honourable thing, but in hindsight that was a mistake, considering they pulled Perth.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that tension has escalated given the combative leadership styles of McLennan, RA chief executive Andy Marinos and NZR chief executive Mark Robinson, and the fact COVID-19 has finally brought on the radical change required in Super Rugby. All nations are scrambling for survival.
But McLennan said New Zealand make the assumption that the on-field dominance of the All Blacks over the Wallabies extends to all facets of the relationship.
“They definitely think they’re superior to us,” McLennan said.
“And perhaps on the field, that’s currently a fair cop. But the basis of the ANZAC bloc is equal partnership and what goes around, comes around.
“I gave (WA Rugby backer) Andrew Forrest and (Rebels chairman) Paul Docherty my word that they wouldn’t be cut so sorry NZR, but it’s five teams forever.
“If we win (the World Cup bid), that will be a game changer for us and rugby in the Pacific.”