'It sounds pretty logical': Phil Waugh's plan to take Australia back to number one
Phil Waugh has set the lofty goal of taking Australia to the top of world rugby in all four formats of the game after being formally ushered in as Rugby Australia’s new CEO.
RA chairman Hamish McLennan confirmed “probably Australia’s worst-kept” secret at a press conference on Tuesday, with Waugh taking over immediately following Andy Marinos’s resignation last month.
McLennan hailed Waugh as “hands down” the best candidate after serving as a non-executive director on the RA board since 2018 while working in the banking sector after retiring from playing 12 years ago.
The 43-year-old played in two Rugby World Cups, in 2003 and 2007, captained the side in 2006 and racked up 79 Tests during a distinguished career.
Now the former hard-nosed flanker is intent on restoring Australian rugby to the glory days of the late ’90s and early 2000s when the Wallabies won a second World Cup and held the Bledisloe Cup for five straight years.
Despite the Wallabies now being ranked seventh ahead of this year’s global showpiece in France, Waugh is convinced Eddie Jones can lead the side back to the top of the tree.
He also believes the Wallaroos can be the No.1 female team in the world and the men’s and women’s sevens sides can top the rankings.
“I’ve certainly got high aspiration and belief that we can be the best in the world across all formats and that’s certainly what we’ll be aiming for,” he said.
“We’re just haven’t put consistent performances out on the field. We haven’t won enough trophies and that’s really important.”
A ball boy at the old Allianz Stadium for a clash between the Wallabies and touring British and Irish Lions way back in 1989, Waugh believes his lifelong affinity with the game’s grassroots will be key to a successful tenure.
“I’ve got a very strong affiliation to club rugby. To see the connection with the community is a massive part of my role leading the game in Australia,” he said.
“It’s really important that we actually go back to that and we put out our best players and simplify into clubs, and then we bring the club’s supporters into Super Rugby and Test matches.
“It sounds pretty logical, but I do think there’s been a huge separation over time. So to actually connect our rugby community and ensure that the game starts and ends in our crops, we need to really invest in that.”
Credited with rescuing Rugby Australia from bankruptcy and steering the organisation from a $27.1 million loss in 2020 to an $8.2 million profit in 2022, Marinos walked away after enduring a robust relationship with McLennan.
Waugh is relishing the chance to work with both the outspoken chairman and Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who he played under for much of his 79-Test career.
“I say it’s a team effort,” Waugh said.
“You’re always going to have battles, like playing or selection, wherein you have some differences of opinion but when you go out to market you want to be having a united front.
“So I certainly challenge aspects that I may disagree (with), but when we go to market, we then make sure that we’re up in front of people as the united board with the executive.”
Waugh’s appointment comes after another Wallabies great and former Test teammate, Joe Roff, became RA president last month.
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