Rugby Union

‘I won’t back down’: McLennan rejects resign deadline but board vote looms

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Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has rejected a call for his resignation from six rebel state unions but the under-siege official remains under pressure from the RA board, who will meet on Sunday night to vote on his future.

Ahead of a 5pm deadline on Sunday afternoon, McLennan declared he did not intend to stand down after being sent a joint letter of no confidence by the Queensland, ACT, West Australian, South Australian, Tasmanian and Northern Territory state unions on Friday.

But in a further development, the RA board is set to stage an emergency meeting on Sunday night – its fourth in two days – to further consider McLennan’s position as chairman.

The RA board can elect to remove McLennan as chairman and elect a new director into the role, and sources close to the boardroom discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks, said the board had been split in its support for McLennan over the weekend.

Earlier in the day, the chairman pre-empted a deadline of 5pm Sunday imposed by the states for his resignation, after which the six rebel unions would formally call for an extraordinary general meeting, by declaring he would not be standing down.

In the event the board votes to keep McLennan as chairman on Sunday night, the messy battle will proceed to a show of hands at an EGM.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan at home on Sunday.Credit: Edwina Pickles

“As Tom Petty famously sung, I won’t back down,” McLennan told The Australian Financial Review on Sunday. “This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.”

McLennan told The Australian he would depart if he lost the vote at an EGM, which must be held within 60 days of a request from two member unions.

“Bring on an EGM and let’s clear this up once and for all, otherwise the division and backstabbing will continue,” McLennan said.

“The purpose of the EGM should be a referendum on fixing the constitution and centralisation. This is our moment. If I lose the vote I will happily walk. For those who vote against me, if they lose, they should walk and we’ll unify around fixing the game.”

McLennan has been approached for comment.

The six state unions believe they have sufficient votes locked in to oust McLennan, with nine of the available 16 votes.

The rebel state unions did not include NSW Rugby, the Waratahs, Rugby Victoria, the Melbourne Rebels or the Rugby Union Players Association in their plans to roll McLennan, which were formulated in a series of secret phone hook-ups recently.

McLennan believes the Waratahs, Rebels and Force will vote for him and if Rugby Victoria, NSW Rugby and RUPA all side with the chairman, too, McLennan must flip one of the rebel state unions to survive.

But that may depend on how quickly an EGM is called, given the Waratahs deed of ownership is due to be transferred to Rugby Australia on January 1, 2024. After that, the Waratahs vote has to be voided under the RA constitution, and that could increase the rebel unions’ majority from 9-7 to 9-6.

Eddie Jones was a disastrous appointment.Credit: Getty

NSW Rugby last week officially signed over the Waratahs to Rugby Australia as part of the governing body’s centralisation plans and the Rebels are poised to also “integrate” with RA shortly.

Rebels chairman Paul Docherty issued a public statement of support for McLennan on Saturday, saying Melbourne believed the best path towards a new and effective centralised structure for Australian rugby was continuing under the McLennan plan. Docherty is also a Rugby Victoria director and the Rebels are closely aligned with the state union.

The NSW Rugby Union board were due to have a phone hook-up on Sunday afternoon to discuss their position in the event of an EGM being called. Given the deed of ownership isn’t officially transferred to Rugby Australia until January 1, NSWRU still holds the Waratahs vote – and three in total.

Andrew Forrest has publicly backed Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan.Credit: Rugby Australia

Following a statement of support on Saturday from Andrew and Nicola Forrest – who own the Western Force – McLennan is confident the Perth Super Rugby franchise will vote for him.

The Rugby Union Players Association board determines how its vote is deployed, and chief executive Justin Harrison said on Sunday the players’ union was still in an information gathering phase.

The RUPA board comprises Wallabies and NSW hooker Dave Porecki (president), ACT lock Cadeyrn Neville, Reds and Wallabies forward Fraser McReight, Wallabies and Rebels fullback Andrew Kellaway, Waratahs lock Hugh Sinclair, Wallabies and Force prop Tom Robertson, Wallaroos and Waratahs forward Emily Chancellor, Aussie sevens stars Charlotte Caslick and Henry Hutchison, chairman Campbell Fisher and Lendlease executive Penny Ransom.

McLennan said he believed the rebel state unions’ move is “an attempted coup” by the Brumbies and the Queensland Rugby, and is directly linked to their opposition of centralisation reforms being pursued by Rugby Australia.

“The RA board should stand firm against the bullies,” McLennan told The Australian.

“Three Super clubs are voting for me while two are against reform. All the money comes from the professional game.”

In a letter to the QRU’s constitutional members obtained by this masthead, chairman Brett Clark explained why they had moved against McLennan.

“There is no trust or faith left in his leadership of the game,” Clark wrote.

“We accept that this move adds to the very instability we are aiming to address – however the long-term objective of removing such disruptive leadership will be in the best interests of the game.

“Further, Mr McLennan’s aggressive actions in the days since receiving the notice of no confidence has reinforced the Member Union’s view that he [is] not capable of continuing as Chair.”

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