Rob Clarke has been appointed interim CEO of Rugby Australia. Picture: John Feder
Rob Clarke has been appointed interim CEO of Rugby Australia. Picture: John Feder

Bright light at end of another tumultuous day for rugby

The 10 former Wallabies captains who pushed for a leadership change at Rugby Australia have been left aghast by the sudden resignation of director Peter Wiggs, on a dramatic day in which Rob Clarke took over as interim chief executive.

The former Australian skippers; Phil Kearns, Nick Farr-Jones, Stirling Mortlock, George Gregan, George Smith, Simon Poidevin, Stephen Moore, Jason Little, Rod McCall and Nathan Sharpe had presented RA with a vision to revitalise the game, and had been in discussion with Wiggs.

But it's not all bad news. Clarke, one of the country's leading rugby administrators, is on board at east for the next six months, while a future chairman is in the wind and a $17 million rescue package from World Rugby on its way.

Hamish McLennan, the 53-year-old chairman of the REA Group, a multi-billion global digital advertising real estate company operated by News Corp, is expected to be confirmed as chairman shortly. And that on top of a rescue cheque for around $17m, with re-elected chairman Bill Beaumont apologising for its delay because of the World Rugby elections, means a tough couple of weeks has a silver lining.

It didn't look that way at one stage though.

Wiggs had demanded at last Monday's board meeting that he would accept the position of chairman on the caveats that he be allowed to appoint Matt Carroll as chief executive and bring back former rugby boss John O'Neill to the board.

That stance was rejected by fellow board members, who wanted to follow due process, leading Wiggs to resign on Wednesday morning.

"We're shocked by the developments, we thought Wiggs was someone we could get behind and support to institute that transformational change we've been calling for," Kearns said.

"That opportunity seems to have been missed."

An email dispute between Wiggs and RA's executive chairman Paul McLean was leaked to News Corp Australia after Wiggs' resignation.

Carroll, the Australian Olympic Committee chief executive, withdrew his interest in the RA position on Wednesday night after a text message from McLean which ended his hopes of replacing Raelene Castle.

Executive chairman Paul McLean sounded out Rob Clarke for the interim role.
Executive chairman Paul McLean sounded out Rob Clarke for the interim role.

Having been chief executive of the Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels, and also chief operating officer of the Australian Rugby Union in two terms under Gary Flowers and Bill Pulver, Clarke has previously been touted as a future boss of rugby.

But he suddenly quit his post under Pulver in 2017, when many believed he was close to replacing his boss.

However, Clarke and wife Kylie have been enjoying a less stressful lifestyle in recent years and he intends to resume that once the COVID-19 restrictions have eased.

"I have told Paul McLean I will not be a candidate for the full-time role, I've offered to fill in the gap while they find a new person to help settle things," Clarke told The Daily Telegraph.

"My wife Kylie and I have been travelling quite a bit, we would be travelling now if it were not for the COVID-19 restrictions, so my calendar has suddenly opened up for six months. But once the restrictions are lifted we intend to resume travel again."

Clarke said his focus will be on the resumption of rugby this year after coronavirus restrictions are eased enough, scouring the financial position of RA and working to generate much-needed income by developing a clear picture of tournament structures next year and selling them to a broadcaster.

"How can we use this opportunity, while it is having drastic consequences on our lives, how can we use it to reshape the game, as the old adage goes, never waste a good crisis,' Clarke said.

"I'll be working to position the game for the future, I really want to get stuck into that, there is plenty to do and I am excited by it."

Originally published as Bright light at end of another tumultuous day for rugby


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