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'That's just crap': Ex-All Blacks blast RA chairman over Super Rugby Pacific threat

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

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A trio of former All Blacks have taken Rugby Australia [RA] chairman Hamish McLennan to task over his threat that the Australian franchises may abandon Super Rugby Pacific.

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McLennan dropped a bombshell last week when he told Fox Sports that RA is strongly considering forging ahead with Super Rugby on its own and create a domestic competition to rival the NRL and AFL from 2024 onwards.

McLennan has reportedly informed New Zealand Rugby [NZR] chairman Stewart Mitchell of RA’s stance on the matter, and that “all bets are off” with NZR beyond the two organisation’s Super Rugby Pacific partnership, which expires next year.

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It’s believed an imbalanced split of broadcast revenue is at the heart of McLennan’s threat to ditch RA’s Kiwi counterparts, with NZR raking in a reported A$91m from its broadcast partner Sky, the parent company of this publication.

That dwarfs the A$29m deal RA has in place with Channel Nine, which was signed after participating unions in Super Rugby shared broadcast revenue evenly in previous versions of the competition.

Fox Sports reports that McLennan has the backing of the RA board and Australia’s five Super Rugby Pacific franchises, but three ex-All Blacks have blasted his comments.

Speaking on The Breakdown, Sky’s flagship rugby show, former All Blacks wing Sir John Kirwan dismissed McLennan’s comments as “paper talk” and said RA leaving Super Rugby Pacific would be “the dumbest political decision that they could make”.

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“Let’s be cold about it,” Kirwan said on Sky, which is partially owned by NZR, to fellow panellists and All Blacks greats Jeff Wilson and Mils Muliaina.

“My question back to both of you is do you think that they would suffer more by leaving, or would we suffer more?

“I want them in the competition. I think they’re outstanding. I love the Brumbies, I love the Reds, I love the Waratahs. I think it’s good. I think we need to keep growing together.

“However, my question back to both of you is who’s going to lose out on this? If they want to go, I think it’s the dumbest political decision that they could make. Okay, they’ve got the World Cup, but afterwards, who are they going to play?

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“I think that we want them to stay, but why are you throwing that into the media? Because I don’t think, when push comes to shove, they would be able to improve their game.

“The NRL is thriving, it’s outstanding. Australian rules, they do a great job. They’re [RA] struggling already to get back where they need to get.”

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Wilson, meanwhile, said he was “bitterly disappointed” by McLennan’s comments, which he described as a “power play” to attract more income ahead the 2025 British & Irish Lions tour of Australia and the two World Cups that RA will host in 2027 and 2029.

The former 60-test All Black was particularly upset about how such a decision by RA would impact Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua, Super Rugby’s first Pacific Island franchises that featured in the competition for the first time this year.

“They’ve got some big moments coming up, Rugby World Cups at home, they’re thinking and trying to plot their way towards that, but I think this is just a pure power play in terms of trying to negotiate more funds for Australia rugby,” Wilson said.

“I’m bitterly disappointed to hear him talking like that.

“When you commit to something for a couple of years, you commit to the Fijian Drua, Moana Pasifika sides, how do you think they feel right now, Hamish?

“You’ve opened a door for them and you’re thinking about, ‘We’re going to walk away from this now because it’s in the best interests of us, or we think it is’.”

Muliaina, the former All Blacks centurion and 2011 World Cup-winning fullback, echoed Wilson’s sentiments.

“I think it’s all talk. I’m disappointed, too, purely for that fact that we spoke about Moana and the Drua… where’s the funding for them these last few years?” Muliaina told The Breakdown.

“They’ve been crying out for here and there and there, they’re finally getting into a competition, and Hamish comes out and says, ‘Well, we’re going to leave them. All well and dandy that these last couple of years where we have them in there, but we’ll want to throw them back out again because we want to go on our own’.

“I think that it’s just all talk. I think he’s the only one that thinks it’s going to happen. Even the Australian players, I think that we need each other.

“This competition has been so great, and to hear stuff like that come out, and in the week of the final. That’s just crap.”

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Wilson, the husband of former Silver Ferns star Adine Wilson, pointed to the decision by Netball Australia and Netball New Zealand to part ways and bring an end to the now-defunct ANZ Championship in 2016 as an example of the dangers that come with ending established trans-Tasman sporting competitions.

“I’ll make an example. Australian netball is in a hole for $4 million. They walked away from the trans-Tasman competition in New Zealand, and they’ve been worse off financially,” he said.

“That’s the biggest sport in Australia. There’s a danger if you walk away. To be fair, though, we also need them as well. We do need them, and I get where they’re coming from.

“I think you can see already there’s greater interest in this competition in Super Rugby than there was when we were separated and apart. We’ve created something. They’ve committed to it and now they’re talking about walking away. I’m really disappointed in this.”

Wilson added that the Australian teams have improved markedly in Super Rugby Pacific this season after a disastrous Super Rugby Trans-Tasman campaign in which they registered just two wins from 25 matches.

This year, the Brumbies, Waratahs, Rebels and Force all combined to produce a collective total of eight wins from 26 matches, with the Brumbies beating the Hurricanes to book a semi-final berth, where they came within one point beating the Blues.

According to Wilson, that bodes well for the future of the competition, which he hopes will remain intact beyond next year.

“To see the improvements they’ve made in the last 12 months, from when they couldn’t win a game in Super Rugby a few years ago against the New Zealand sides, they picked up a couple last year, and all of a sudden, this year we’ve seen – and I know the Brumbies proved it – they could compete and go well,” he said.

“You’ve started something, you’ve got to follow through with this, stick with what I think is a formula of the future, and then we’ll start talking about whether or not this world club competition… but, bottom line, we’ve started something, we’ve got to run the course.”

The reaction of Kirwan, Wilson and Muliaina come as Wallabies boss Dave Rennie voiced his concerns on the matter, saying he’d like to see Super Rugby Pacific continue and that “it’s important” that Australian teams face Kiwi opposition.

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