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FEATURE 2.6 million reasons why Wallabies review had to be released

2.6 million reasons why Wallabies review had to be released
4 months ago

Rugby Australia released the 23 recommendations from its much-anticipated external review into the Wallabies’ 2023 season last week. Lost in the headlines of extraordinary and exorbitant levels of overspending was that Rugby Australia actually released a Wallabies review.

On more than a few occasions over the years, RA and the old Australian Rugby Union would launch a review into a particular issue, or a particularly bad run of performances, but changes of personnel – forced or otherwise – before the review was complete often meant that the final report was delivered straight into a bottom draw of a filing cabinet.

The question would be asked, ‘What were the outcomes of that review?’ The answer would come back along the lines of ‘recommendations were made, but most have been resolved with the recent changes’, where those changes could be anything from a whole new approach to the obligatory change of coach.

Indeed, you only have to go back to the end of the injury-ravaged 2022 season, where a review was launched after the Dave Rennie-led Wallabies won only two of five Tests on their November tour and fell short of the pass mark publicly uttered by then CEO Andy Marinos.

Ben Donaldson
Australia’s first ever defeat by Italy in November 2022 led to a previous review, which cost coach Dave Rennie his job (Photo Federugby/Getty Images)

The Wallabies lost to France by a point, to Ireland by three, but the one that did the damage was the one-point loss to Italy in between. The performances against France and Ireland, the two best teams in the world at that point, couldn’t cover for that first ever loss to Italy, and Rennie suddenly found himself tending his garden in 2023, unceremoniously sacked and replaced by Eddie Jones.

That 2022 season review never saw the light of day. Jones, the narrative went, would solve everything.

But here was former board member and RA CEO of nine months, Phil Waugh, fronting the media last week and announcing 23 key recommendations from the external review.

To be clear, this was the over-spending that wasn’t known about and was only revealed by the review, meaning there had already been a level of approved, or at least known about, overspending up to this point.

Conducted by a four-person panel incorporating former Australia captain Andrew Slack, former Wallabies lock and current Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) boss Justin Harrison, as well as renowned high-performance expert Darlene Harrison and Pasifika advisor Moana Leilua, the review was headlined by revelations that the level of unapproved overspending on the Wallabies’ forgettable 2023 campaign was north of AUD $2.6 million.

To be clear, this was the over-spending that wasn’t known about and was only revealed by the review, meaning there had already been a level of approved, or at least known about, overspending up to this point.

“The over-investment that was unapproved was $2.6 million, which covered three main elements … team costs, staff travel and then player benefits,” Waugh outlined last week.

Eddie Jones
Unauthorised overspending was deemed to have occurred during Eddie Jones’ short-lived second spell as head coach (Photo Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“The reality is that 86 per cent of our revenue comes through the men’s XVs program for Rugby Australia, and a successful World Cup program is critical to that.

“And I guess there was lenience given in the hope that we would succeed at the World Cup and make it deep into the tournament. Clearly that didn’t happen, but the circumstances were quite unique.”

Attempting to explain how the level of overspend could reach such levels without the knowledge of the RA hierarchy, Waugh said: “Delegation of authority is important and clearly there were breaches in that area and we’ve made personnel changes on the back of some of those breaches.

The hint was there on the day Jones was unveiled last January, when now former RA chair Hamish McLennan uttered, perhaps infamously, “whatever Eddie wants” in response to what level of support was being afforded the new Wallabies coach.

“That over-investment, that’s not acceptable and it won’t happen going forward.”

Waugh didn’t name people responsible, but the fact that Jones and his whole Wallabies management team has since moved on, and that RA were prepared to outline the review’s findings so publicly feel like dots just waiting to be joined.

Fans in Australia rightly wondered how a governing body already living off a loan facility at more than double current bank interest could allow such flagrant excessive spending, but the hint was there on the day Jones was unveiled last January, when now former RA chair Hamish McLennan uttered, perhaps infamously, “whatever Eddie wants” in response to what level of support was being afforded the new Wallabies coach.

Rob Valetini
Australia have to rebuild after their worst-ever RWC campaign, which included a 40-6 drubbing by Wales (Photo Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

The recommendations themselves were spread across five categories: HP Strategy, Wallabies and HP Program, Culture, Governance, and National coaching program. They point to several wheels that RA has had in motion for several months now, such as a centralisation of HP programs which the states agreed with, but which McLennan angled for complete takeovers of the state programs. Ultimately his bullishness cost him his position.

Most of the recommendations seem logical, and all will be adopted or actioned in some form. Peter Horne’s installation as Director of High Performance and David Nucifora’s return from Ireland in an advisory role in August this year have ticked several boxes around high performance already.

Transparency around Wallabies selection will be welcomed by players and fans alike, and if Joe Schmidt can continue his already busy period of interactions and connections with the five Super Rugby Pacific sides, then the points around concerted coordination through the HP programs will be achieved with obvious benefits.

More than 90 people were involved in the review, and the vast majority of players pointed to a lost or broken trust in the Wallabies management hierarchy by the end of the season. The coach heading to Japan when he repeatedly and emphatically said he wasn’t going to will do that. Schmidt being a listener, and all selection slates being wiped clean, is a necessary foundation from which to rebuild that trust.

Certainly, players shouldn’t have to ring the coach to find out if they’ve made a squad or not.

The astonishing levels of self-indulgent spending – which concluded in such a limp, completely uninspiring Australian display at the RWC – meant that RA really had no choice but to release the findings in full.

Other recommendations like governance and coaching program reviews can all happen in the background, and at the appropriate levels, while the players and coaches will get on with the job of recovering from the worst ever Australian campaign at a Rugby World Cup. There are now less than four years before Australia hosts the global tournament itself.

With a new Wallabies coach installed and long-overdue appointments made in the HP space, the rebuild of Australian rugby can begin in earnest. The fact the new Wallabies coach and those long-overdue HP appointments have all worked together in the past is already giving Australian fans confidence that the impact of the rebuild will be obvious and immediate.

Promising showings from all five Australian sides through the first three rounds of Super Rugby Pacific might suggest the impact is already being felt.

But really, the astonishing levels of self-indulgent spending – which concluded in such a limp, completely uninspiring Australian display at the RWC – meant that RA really had no choice but to release the findings of the review in full.

The question from here becomes how Rugby Australia intends to show that those clear lessons from the review will be heeded going forward.

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Comments

24 Comments
N
Nick 128 days ago

My question in all this brett is who is going to wear the consequences of these actions? Surely just getting the sack isn’t sufficient? A teenager working the till at woolies would probably get taken to court if they took $20 out of the till. You mean to tell me that someone can spend $2.6 million and get away with it? Where was it spent? What companies/people were the beneficiaries etc? How is it just being talked about as an ‘oopsie’ and we all just move on and not a matter of the court for gross negligence, fraud, take your pick…

c
cs 132 days ago

Hi Brett, so this is where you hang out these days. I’ve been missing you over at the other place.

The juice bit for me is how it gives the lie to the stuff about going for youth with a view to 2027. The wild expenditure suggests Hamish was desperate to go deep.

This opens a window on many interesting questions. What was the real reason for axing experience, defying the world cup wisdom of multitudes? Was the youth/2027 a deliberatly disingenuous cover story for a desperate bid? Or was it a true aim at first, but Hamish panicked at the hurdle as the foolhardiness became apparent and started chucking out money desperately, aware he had led the show into the ground?

Best wishes

R
RobC 133 days ago

Hi BeeMc. This is interesting. The extent of the breach of trust, and control. Its amazing

J
John 133 days ago

2.6m AUS spent on flights, hotels, dinners and embarassing losses…sounds about right

T
Trevor 133 days ago

Thanks Brett. 2023 has been and gone but still lingering is how secretive RA and ARU before them have been.

I remember when CEO Pulver laid out his 5 year plan but I don’t recall any achievement from the “5 Year Plan”…. But nothing was said about it.

Rennie really never had a chance. The moment he commenced his HC role, the effects of Covid reared its head with travelling bans put in placr and the ability to move even intercity was not easy.

Good luck to Joe Schmidt as he embarks upon restoring the Wallabies credibilty. Aussie rugby fans need to cut Schmidt some slack, at least allow him to settle in for 2023 and look forward for marked improvement in 2025 and the Lions challenge downunder.

M
Mitch 133 days ago

The damage the undynamic and toxic duo named Hamish and Eddie did to rugby last year will be felt for years to come. Hamish’s snobbery of league to go with his and Eddie’s belief that league players will be able to fix rugby’s issues here have blown up in rugby’s face. It’s now open season in terms of league trying to poach rugby players. Marky Mark is gone and who knows if Petaia and Jorgensen join him in the 13 a side game.

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