Rugby Australia appears to be imploding at an alarming rate, with Chief Executive Officer Raelene Castle in the firing line.
Retired former Wallaby hooker-turned-media-critic Phil Kearns has denied he is making a play for Castle’s job.
However, media speculation remains rife that Castle could be sacked ‘within days’.
Senior figures in Australia were moving to end Castle’s tenure after a dismal financial outlook triggered by the coronavirus-enforced shutdown of the sport, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported.
Castle has found herself under further pressure as a public dispute between RA and the Rugby Union Players Association broken out – with RUPA seeking full access to the governing body’s financial information after repeated requests.
In a statement released on Saturday morning, the RUPA announced that it had been granted access, but Castle remains under intense scrutiny following widespread criticism of her tenure.
There has reportedly been a growing sense of frustration with power brokers towards those in charge of the game in Australia after Castle declared a performance rating of 72 percent at the union’s annual general meeting on Monday.
At that same meeting, the organisation announced an AU$9.4 million loss for 2019 over a 12-month period – which saw a quarterfinal exit by the Wallabies at the World Cup, the costly Israel Folau saga, general low attendance figures and numerous high-profile player depart Super Rugby.
Adding to Castle’s woes was RA’s inability to secure a new broadcast deal, culminating in the report from the Daily Telegraph that Kearns is set to take her spot as the most powerful figure in Australian rugby.
However, the 67-test former Wallabies hooker – who won two World Cups and now works as an outspoken commentator for Fox Sports – told the network that he has denied making a play to succeed Castle.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Castle had retained the full backing of the RA board after having stood down 75 percent of her workforce in a cost-cutting measure.
In what the SMH described as “the most difficult and tumultuous week in the game’s history”, Castle’s dispute with the RUPA boss Justin Harrison was compounded by a powerful group of former Wallabies – Kearns, Rod Kafer and George Gregan advocating for change in power.
With COVID-19 ravaging the sport in Australia, Castle also took a 50 percent pay cut, which is understood to have left her with a salary worth around AU$400,000, more than what most professional players earn throughout the country.
The pay slash comes as projections indicate a doomsday scenario that RA could face a deficit of a AU$90 million should no rugby be played for the remainder of the year.
“Aside from being there to support each other, it is vital that we all pull together,” Castle said in a statement this week, calling for unity during the crisis.
Earlier, Castle said a worst-case scenario, in which the entire season was lost along with Wallabies Tests against Ireland and Fiji, would cost the governing body AU$120 million (US$72 million) in revenue.
There appears to have been a breakthrough in stalled talks between RA and the players.
RUPA chief executive Justin Harrison released a statement, welcoming the receipt of “the financial information first requested from Rugby Australia almost a month ago”.
“Given neither party has yet tabled any position relating to player salaries in the context of the COVID-19 crisis we need to be realistic as to the problems [still] to be solved,” Harrison said.
“And the time [that is] necessary to deal with complex issues and have a proper consultation with players.
“If other major codes are a guide, a week or weeks is not an unrealistic timeframe to reach a solution.
“RUPA has at all times been ready to enter proper negotiations as soon as transparent financial information was provided. We now look forward to a meaningful discussion.”
Harrison added players are “keenly aware of the role they need to play in leading the code to a sustainable future”.
“RUPA again emphasises our desire for open and transparent discussions conducted in good faith,” he said.
“We are looking forward to advancing these discussions in a rapid timeframe.”
Former Wallaby coach Michael Cheika was among those calling for more transparency from his former employer, while Melbourne Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty expressed frustration and disappointment with the stalemate.
“We care about the game as much as anyone else,” the Rebels and Wallabies outside back told AAP.
“We’ve been left out of the loop and left out of the decision-making process to date. Hopefully, that’s changing.
“I felt like the AFL the very next day went straight to their players to sit down and talk about where they are at and how we’re going to fix it. [For rugby] it’s been probably over a month now.”