Castle fall-out: Wallabies want review board
The 10 former Wallaby captains who pushed for Raelene Castle’s resignation are confident they can now help return Australian rugby to its glory days.
Led by 1991 World Cup-winning skipper Nick Farr-Jones, the captains are proposing the establishment of an Australian Rugby Review board to dissect the next governance model as well as every other aspect of the game.
Stirling Mortlock, one of the other nine ex-Wallabies captains who signed a letter sent this week to Rugby Australia calling for a leadership change, believes the need for a total overhaul has been 13 years coming.
“I personally think we should have had that moment after the 2007 World Cup – just like New Zealand did,” Mortlock told AAP.
“New Zealand used the 2007 experience [of also being eliminated in the quarterfinals by France] to create alignment throughout their whole rugby system.
“Unfortunately we didn’t.
“But we are now buoyed that all stakeholders are ready to work together in a transparent and open manner to get a solution that’s going to be in the best interests of Australian rugby.”
The disgruntled former captains hope the healing and “reinvention” can begin immediately.
“Effectively what we are all going for is using this as an opportunity to have a clean slate and part of that is reconnecting the professional part of the game to the grassroots, the amateur game, so we’re totally as one,” Mortlock said on Friday.
“Unfortunately for a long period of time, the grassroots – the clubs, the school games, which are the foundations of our game – have been totally neglected.
“So the key for us is collaboration, transparency, trust and open communication with all stakeholders – that’s RUPA, all the member unions, Rugby Australia and everyone coming together to have input into using this as an opportunity to get things right for our game.”
Mortlock acknowledged the group of captains – which also includes George Gregan, George Smith, Simon Poidevin, Stephen Moore, Jason Little, Rod McCall, Nathan Sharpe and Phil Kearns – didn’t have all the answers.
But they share a collective burning desire to find the solution through the creation of the Australian Rugby Review board.
It’s understood the independently chaired think-tank panel would consist of delegates from all stakeholders in Australian rugby.
“So it will be quite a big board but they will be tasked with overhauling both the governance structure and every facet of the game,” said Mortlock, who rejected the notion that Farr-Jones was the orchestrator behind the captains’ call to overthrow Castle.
“The reality is there’s been a lot of us talking behind the scenes for a long period of time.
“I think we all have a view on some forms of the solution but this is not about [immediate] solutions.
“It’s about empowering fresh thinking from all the member unions and all the stakeholders to basically use this as an opportunity to get it right.”
Mortlock said now was not the time to play the blame game for Australian rugby’s disconnection with fans and the Wallabies’ slide to seventh in the world rankings, but rather a chance to move forward and repair the damage.
He said it would be cruel to single out Castle for criticism.
“This is not a witch hunt, this is not about individuals,” he said.
“It’s about transformational change that we can put into our game for the greater good and making rugby great again in Australia.”
* Meanwhile Rugby Australia Chairman Paul McLean has staunchly backed Castle, who he says copped abhorrent bullying from “faceless people” during nearly three years in the job.
He described Castle as someone who would run through broken glass for the organisation and that it was the criticism most did not see that lead to her decision to quit.
“Criticism is easy, being cynical is easy, but decision making is tough,” McLean said.
“She was able to do that and do that with some clarity.
“She would run through broken glass to get things done, and she has done that.”
Castle’s handling of the Israel Folau settlement and her rejection of Fox Sports’ initial broadcast deal beyond this season was a source of criticism from some quarters, while the code’s financial plight has been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.
Apart from the attacks by the former captains, long-time critic Alan Jones doubled down on Friday.
“She knows nothing about the game,” the former Wallabies coach turned broadcaster said on 2GB.
“It’s like putting someone to become the first violinist in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra who can’t read music.”
McLean said it was not the media criticism that stung though.
“It’s the silent forces, the dark forces that upset me most,” he said.
“It’s the people who didn’t ask, didn’t know the facts or just one of those faceless people out there that was the damaging thing from her perspective and she shared some of that with me, which I found quite abhorrent.
“[If not for the] unwarranted criticism and, in fact, bullying, I think it might have been a different scenario.”
McLean insisted most people in Castle’s position would “have thrown in the towel ages ago” but that inevitably her departure had become the clear way forward.
He dismissed the impact of the former captains’ letter, saying they could easily align with recovery efforts that were already underway.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with Nick Farr-Jones and, let’s be clear here, it’s a very small collective of (those) people who have been involved in the game of late,” McLean said.
“The significance of that group is probably the people that aren’t on the list.”
Newly installed board member Peter Wiggs, fellow director and former Wallaby Daniel Herbert, and Phil Kearns – one of the ex-captains to put their name to the letter – are among those being touted to replace Castle.