McLennan urged to resign as disgruntled states move to oust RA chairman

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Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan says he will fight against move from four state unions to oust him after the disgruntled group confronted the embattled official and urged him to resign.

The chairmen of the Queensland Rugby Union, ACT Rugby, Rugby WA and South Australia Rugby confronted McLennan on Friday, following a secret phone hook-up on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the RA chairman’s leadership following a disastrous year in rugby. QRU chairman Brett Clark phoned McLennan on Friday afternoon to inform him of their collective stance.

Under the Rugby Australia constitution, voting members of the national union – the states and territories, the Super Rugby clubs and the Rugby Union Players Association – can call an extraordinary general meeting and remove a Rugby Australia director by a majority vote.

The four unions believe they have the numbers to force McLennan’s hand but their call for him to resign was rejected immediately, meaning they’ll have to call an EGM and vote on the matter. Two member unions can call an EGM and Rugby Australia then has 60 days to hold the meeting.

McLennan confirmed on Friday he had received a call from Clark but said he would not be standing down.

“This will be the defining moment for the battle of rugby. It’s all about money and control and we have been failing for years. We live in interesting times,” McLennan told this masthead.

“This is about principles. They are actually not putting the game first and its about self-interest and parochialism.”

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan.Credit: Steven Siewert

Rugby Australia has been in a state of crisis after the Wallabies failed to progress beyond the Rugby World Cup pool stages for the first time and coach Eddie Jones then resigned from the role in October, less than a year into his five-year contract.

NSW Rugby Union, which this week signed over the running of the Waratahs to Rugby Australia, was not on the Wednesday phone hook-up and is not among the group seeking to remove McLennan.

The Herald can reveal powerbrokers from Rugby Australia’s state unions and Super Rugby clubs began discussing confidence in McLennan’s leadership before the Rugby World Cup.

There are 13 voting members of Rugby Australia: each state or territory gets one vote (and a second vote if it has over 50,000 players), each Super Rugby licencee gets a vote, and the Rugby Union Players Association also has a vote.

With the Waratahs’ vote now void given it is under RA ownership, there are a total of 15 votes.

A group of Queensland Rugby Union/Reds (3), ACT Rugby/Brumbies (2) and Rugby WA/Force (2), along with South Australia (1) would represent a majority. But it is unclear whether the Force will vote alongside Rugby WA.

Eddie Jones resigned as Wallabies coach less than 12 months into a five-year deal.Credit: Getty

The four unions who confronted McLennan are aggrieved at his leadership across a number of areas, including the Jones’ recruitment, the Wallabies’ failure at the Rugby World Cup, the big-money recruitment of Joseph Suaalii, a blowout in the Wallabies budget and a failure to meet RA promises of funding increases to the state unions. After plans for a private-equity deal were shelved and increased debt sought instead, state unions were angry when informed there would not be any increase in funding, according to informed sources.

McLennan’s departure would likely see more willingness by states to sign up with Rugby Australia’s centralisation plans, according to sources close to the process who spoke anonymously due to the confidential nature of the talks.

“I want to stay to deliver the 2027 World Cup in Australia,” McLennan told this masthead last month. “More destabilisation will just make matters worse just when we’re about to break through. Life is not a continuous line of perfect calls and success.

“I came to rugby to find a way to fix it when it all fell over and despite the sad Eddie situation, this is another hurdle we’ll overcome.”

Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh.Credit: Getty

In an interview with Stan Sport last week, McLennan issued his first apology for RA’s turbulent period but denied Jones had been a captain’s pick, and stressed he was keen to “stick it out and fix it once and for all”. He also said he would make the same decision to hire Jones again.

However, RA chief executive Phil Waugh this week offered a contradictory view to McLennan’s enthusiasm to sign more rugby league players.

At a press conference following Jones’ resignation, Waugh pointed to the power of Rugby Australia’s member unions and stakeholders when asked about McLennan and the RA board taking accountability for the World Cup disaster.

“We are ultimately responsible. There is the governance framework that provides for that if that’s what our stakeholders and our members and people would like,” Waugh said.

“There is a lot that goes into making decisions and the performances that followed on the back of the decisions that were made were not what any of us anticipated. As I said, there is a governance framework for that.”

McLennan is also chairman of the REA Group and deputy chair of Magellan Financial Group, and is a director of ARN Media. He was chief executive of Network Ten from 2013 to 2015.

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