Why we need to think before we shoot down Raelene Castle - Green and Gold Rugby

Why we need to think before we shoot down Raelene Castle

Why we need to think before we shoot down Raelene Castle

While this period of time over Christmas is traditionally supposed to be the ‘off-season’, the turn of events over the last few weeks has made this period so interesting that we’ve been semi-considering getting the news boys back out or doing new podcasts. 

Rugby is in a very weird place right now, with the beginning of the Rennie era upon us, a board clean out on the cards, a critical new TV deal being negotiated, and players being signed up for long-term contracts left, right and centre.

With all of this change comes the latest ringing out of demands from the likes of the media, shock jocks who shall remain unnamed, and rusted-on members of the general rugby public for a clean out of Rugby Australia. However, this time, the demands looked a lot more serious, with John O’Neill potentially looking for a tilt at the Chairman role, Phil Kearns potentially wanting to have a crack at the Chief Executive role, and the likes of David Leckie and Ben Fordham demanding the resignation of Raelene Castle. So strong were the demands, that Rugby Australia came out and said explicitly that Raelene won’t be going anywhere, and even then people were still murmuring of change occurring.

The stalking horse

John O’Neill

A lot of this we covered in Hugh’s excellent article from earlier in the week, which I highly recommend you read before continuing any further.

The whole nature from the Sydney boys club demanding more power and control over the game’s administration is something that isn’t entirely new, as anyone who loves and follows the game outside of Sydney will tell you. Additionally, with so many powerful people in the media on their side (effectively creating a narrative of disunity around the game that can only be solved if these men are appointed), it only adds to the perception that everything to do with rugby in Australia is going down the toilet. You could play bingo with these guys as to the same buzzword things they say, over and over.

Frankly, it’s not a constructive nor positive discussion, and it certainly won’t create any sense of unity or direction around to fix the legitimate problems of the game in Australia. And this leads to the main point of this article as a follow-up to Hughs: the entire narrative around Raelene Castle as CEO.

From the moment she took office in December 2017, Raelene has been a lightening rod for criticism from rugby circles everywhere. Some people have a go at her for her time at the Bulldogs. Some people have a go at her because she is an “outsider” to the game of rugby here in Australia, and not being part of Sydney boys club. LOTs of people have a go at her for the whole circumstance around Israel Folau. And then there are some people who have a go at her for much nastier reasons, which are frankly disgusting.

There are a LOT of criticisms you can level at Rugby Australia. Mismanagement of the game has been something that has reared it’s ugly head a lot within the last ten-fifteen years. A lot of that lack of direction, ironically, can be laid at the foot of many of Raelene’s predecessors, a couple of which, as mentioned, now want to come back into the fold. Sounds like a good solution, right? They sure know how to manage the game well, right? Disunity within the game is especially rife, with organisations like the SRU running pretty much independently of the governing body, and being the first to throw their toys out of the cot whenever RA does something not aligned with their agendas.

Raelene Castle and Scott Johnson

Raelene Castle and Scott Johnson

Raelene puts herself out there a lot, much more than her predecessors ever did. She’s at most conferences, she engages with people on Twitter, and people within the general rugby public know who she is. No surprises, she gets a decent chunk of the fury from people who want to level their anger for the issues of the game. But, here’s a fun question: aside from Cameron Clyne and Raelene Castle, who else can you name on the Rugby Australia board? (Don’t look at their website, that’s cheating).

If you can’t name many, that says a lot about her approach, as well as the approach of previous members of the board. For the legitimate criticisms of Rugby Australia not being invested in the game and not being present, why do we then level our criticism at someone who actually starts to do that? That’s not a failing of Raelene, that’s a failing of the general public. I was indifferent when Raelene was appointed, but increasingly I’ve been impressed with her ability to get things done at Rugby Australia. Keep in mind, it’s an organisation with a previous history of mismanagement.

Throughout my time looking at rugby, the one thing I’ve really learnt is that patience is key. When a team selects a coach, for example, you need to allow at least 1-2 seasons before they fully realise their vision for their team. First season, they’ve often got a squad that is majority-selected by the previous coach. It takes time for the new coach to craft his or her vision for the team. The same can be said for competitions like the NRC, or setting up new Super Rugby teams. You do that, not for today, but for five, ten, fifteen years down the track.

Raelene has been in this job for just under two years, inheriting a coach she didn’t select and a board who was responsible for doing such wonderful things  as cutting one of the most promising sides in Aussie rugby in the Western Force, and slashing funding to clubland. It was always going to be an uphill battle for her. And, considering she’s been spending most of her time (with one exception), trying to put out fires the previous administration created, what can you actually pin on her?

All things considered, she’s had some victories over her tenure. Firstly, getting on the front foot with her NZ counterpart Steve Tew to show interest in the forthcoming Global Rapid Rugby competition was a major win in terms of beginning to mend fences with those in the west, even if RA is currently unable to provide more substantive support until the new TV deal is settled. She did such a good job, she was praised by Twiggy for being someone who is dragging ‘the rest of the board into the next century.’

She has built on the positive growth of the Women’s Game with the launching of the Super W, the creation of back-to-back Bledisloe tests, and to begin paying women who play for the Wallaroos. Oh, and did we mention she brought one of the most in-demand coaches in the world in Dave Rennie to the Wallabies coaching role, and apparently had been discussing the role with him for months? She convinced him over a four hour lunch to not go back home to New Zealand, but to come to Australia instead. That says a lot. That says she has a clear vision for the Wallabies, with Rennie and Scott Johnson in mind.

One of Rennie’s comments about Raelene was about her passion to see new talent come through. Right now, there is a lot of talent in Aussie rugby. There is a clear agenda to get players into long term contracts, not to mention there is something clicking at the lower levels with the connections between clubland colts and the Junior Wallabies program, given the success of that team over the last 18 months, which included a World Championship final berth. You need a coach and a system that can nurture that talent, not rob it of opportunities to shine.

Israel Folau

Ohhhh, you again…

But then we have the elephant in the room, being the whole Israel Folau debacle. Frankly, I would have hated to have been in her position, and while many have criticised her for some of her decisions, and some of those criticisms are legitimate, at least there is an understanding as to why RA took the decisions they did. She gave him a chance when he first messed up in 2018, and then when he did it again (and didn’t contact RA for over 24 hours after his controversial post), she made it clear those comments had no place in Aussie rugby.

While much legitimate criticism has been levelled at her for settling, we know Rugby Australia don’t have much money, and wanted this resolved quickly. Really, settling was the best case scenario when it comes to the governing body’s survival, even if it sucks that Folau gets off and sticking to their values wasn’t pursued further. No matter what she would’ve done, as Hugh said, it was an utter shit sandwich and there was no right answer. She was going to be damned if she pulled him up (with arguments of free speech) and she was going to be damned if she didn’t.

If we removed her now after only two years, she would have barely had the chance to make any impact on the game or instil any change. Whoever her replacement would be would likely have a different vision themselves that would be drastic from what Raelene has been trying to do for the last few years, and low and behold, we’re back at square one. Disunity, disorganisation, and more of the same.

The last key point to make of this, is that if you, dear reader, are going to judge Raelene Castle, do it from now. Right now. She has many challenges ahead of her, the first of which is the not-so-small task of sorting out the next TV agreement for the whole code. She has proven herself in these two years to have plenty of capability as a CEO who can get stuff done, and that is something that should be commended. She is now in a position to shape the game more significantly, and what she does now is on her own merits. She has a coach she selected, she’ll have a new board, she has laid groundwork for change.

That doesn’t mean we let her off, quite the opposite. She calls the shots, and whether those changes succeed or not is on her. The next 12-18 months are going to be critical. Only then, can we really say if she is the right person to lead rugby in Australia.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Well said Nick. Between you and Hugh it’s nice to read some well thought out arguments without all the hysterical misogynistic bullshit that is being spouted elsewhere. I’m with both of you and I’m looking forward to seeing her take rugby forward. If only those tosses who seem to want it their way or no way allow it to happen. I really don’t know how they don’t see they are the problem

  • Brumby Runner

    Thanks Nick. I especially like the notion of only judging Raelene from now and over the next year or two. In saying that, I don’t want to gloss over what I think was the best outcome for RA in the Folau matter. It had to happen, and all those who think it a win for Izzy against RA are living in cloud cuckoo land.

    I will be most disappointed over the next little while if the NRC is wound up. Plenty of rumours around, but the NRC is right now filling a couple of very important gaps in the structure in this country. First, it is still keeping a connection with the West when so many (seems like Sydney-based) critics want to cast WA and the GRR into the wilderness for all time. And then, it is bringing a truck load of talent through the ranks who would otherwise be stuck at club level wishing for a miracle.

    Hang in there Raelene. If she goes, then I have no confidence we’ll ever see Rennie take over the Wallabies.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Mate, I am with you, especially on the NRC. This is a very good competition that could easily be made better if needed. Personally I’d like it to go ahead and if NSW continues to not want to play then I’d just let them miss out

      • Adrian

        Most people who follow Rugby in NSW totally disagree with the noisy bigotted mob highlighted by Hugh yesterday and referred to here.

        I reckon the NRC can be improved, and that most NSW supporters want that as an alternative to no NRC.

        The Jones-ist types are a very annoying minority, finding any and every reason to slag Rugby, because really they have other agendas!

        • Who?

          The problem with Jones and others is that so much of what they write is true. For me, the reason why I couldn’t support them isn’t that I don’t believe the majority of the problems they identify, it’s that I don’t agree with the solutions they offer.
          I wish Raelene had a good board behind her. A board with real vision, and real connection to the wider Rugby community. And new structures for nomination to all boards… That would give me a lot more confidence than ‘just’ changing the faces.
          And I don’t see justification for changing Raelene.

        • Alister Smith

          To borrow from Game of Thrones I can see a situation where they need to smash the wheel. Just blow it up and start again. But it is unlikely. Maybe if Raelene had her own dragon or three.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Yeah Adrian but the problem is they are so vocal and get so much coverage they almost become the voice of NSW and that’s dangerous

        • Adrian

          Certainly is dangerous KRL

          Most people in Sydney ignore the Jones stuff (for several reasons) and just go to games, or watch on television. Probably half of the followers also follow League and don’t concern themselves with Union administration.

          Guys like Kearns are seen as annoying, mainly because of his Foxtel role…where he somehow thinks he’s funny.

          Further complicating things is the Papworth crowd (make Rugby great again etc), and divisions between the old school tie chaps and Randwick. Some people straddle both camps (eg Dwyer) and some have other political and/or religious agendas (eg Farr Jones). A very diverse mob.

          Interestingly to me, is that when Rugby became professional, the business types (big business often) who effectively ran Rugby were far less professional at running professional sport than the former garbos and trucking company types who ran league.

          I guess this is mostly because the majority of Rugby in this country is in NSW, and therefore the majority of “stakeholders” come from NSW.

          Their thinking however is very much amateur,…in every respect

        • Alister Smith

          The leaguies had a bit of a head start in terms of professional sports but, even with that I think around 50% of the NRL clubs ran deficits last year and the NRL grants of $13 M per club pay for most of the players salaries. But they negotiated a $1B deal for their TV rights which covers a lot of sins. However, I think you’re general comments are pretty spot on. A career in big business doesn’t prepare you to run a sports club or administer a sporting body.

    • Who?

      What was JON’s first action when he started his second term as CEO..? To axe the ARC, after a single season. I want the NRC to stay…..

      • Alister Smith

        I think there might be another way to look at NRC … a whittled down version if you like that might be a starting point for further growth and gets around the NSW lack of support. Rather than the NRC as is, we combine the existing Super sides with GRR. That would give us the 4 existing sides (Rebels, Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs), The Force and Fijian Latui, Manuma Samoa, South China Tigers, Malaysia Valke and “Team Asia”.

        That is a 10 team comp. With limited time available it would be a home one year, away next year comp played at the same time as the NRC is now with the Rugby Championship tests going on at the same time. Given that there are only 3 games on a Rugby Championship weekend (and there would be opportunities for double headers with some tests).

        The beauty of it is that you would have a relatively high level comp – the Force are at a level between GRR and Super Rugby as proved by NRC (or at least were better prepared by having played GRR) but you shouldn’t have to contract too many new players. All the Australian players would be already contracted Super players (who now wouldn’t return to their clubs for the last few rounds and finals) or younger players with academy/development contracts so the ability of the Sydney clubs to restrict player participation would be limited. Wallabies not involved the match 23 could drop back to their respective Super squads so that they have that higher standard game to maintain fitness etc while the Rugby Championship is on.

        It would also give the Super Rugby teams some extra home games, which appears to be a limiting factor and would hopefully attract both (1) development money from World Rugby for the Asia Pacific teams (2) Asian corporate sponsorship (3) Twiggy’s support and (4) eventually some TV dollars.

        I do like the NRC as it is – I personally support NSWC and QC so ideally I would like those sides to stay but I am not sure it will ever be self supporting whereas I think this has a greater chance to do so and perhaps it could grow so that we can support some additional sides in Australia. Western Sydney was after all, part of Twiggy’s plans. If Super Rugby fails we have already positioned ourselves for the next step – potentially a two conference system with 5-7 NZ sides joining perhaps with the addition of some Japanese/other Asia or Pacific sides that could run from Feb – August as a 25 round comp.

        • Who?

          I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t see that as the NRC. That’s a replacement for Super Rugby. It’s reducing the player pool from the currently Semi-Pro NRC.
          To be the NRC, it can’t be running Super teams. It needs to run NRC-level teams. Ideally, those would be the same teams we currently have, or even a few more.
          The replacement for Super Rugb you’ve posited, I think that would be a good thing. If Twiggy decides to invite the current Super teams (i.e. if RA’s new leadership – the chair – is less arrogant (I don’t think Castle is arrogant, she appears to be pretty pragmatic to my eye)), fantastic. If they can grab the NZ Super teams, even better! But I don’t see that happening in this five year cycle, unless the current SANZAAR arrangement massively implodes over the next few months (before the broadcast deal is done).

        • Alister Smith

          Yes and no – it’s effectively running state representative teams with players the level below test level, teams that already have dedicated resources, fan bases (dwindling though they might be) etc that don’t require duplication and using already contracted players. Teams like the Vikings, Rebels and, when they were in Super Rugby, the Force, were already operating under this model in the NRC (Qld also to a lesser extent as they were using Reds coaches and just splitting their contracted players between the two teams). It’s admittedly a compromise but we need to live in the world of what’s possible and affordable and I think this might come closer than an NRC that, at the moment, is pretty much wholly reliant on Foxtel’s generosity. Unfortunately, we don’t appear to be in a place that we can do what the FFA or NBL did. We just don’t have seem to have the base that they have.

        • Who?

          Running state rep teams with players the level below Test level is Super Rugby. NRC isn’t that, it’s a level down, it allows higher numbers of players to step into a level of Rugby between Provincial but above Intra-City Rugby which had been lacking.
          The NRC setup is different. The players aren’t all professional, the coaching isn’t all professional. The Vikings aren’t owned by the ACTRU (they should be!), they’re owned by Tuggeranong. So not all Brumbies play for them. The fact that teams don’t just roll out 23 Super players is key in NRC. Did you notice how many non-Wallabies failed to show up for the Rising this year? I was hopeful we’d see Jack Maddocks getting a run at 10, given he wasn’t in Japan. But he went and played 7’s instead.
          The Reds setup is definitely very different to ‘just’ running the Reds coaches and splitting the players. Yes, the players were split, but it was also seen as a development pathway. The last two Reds coaches came from successful NRC seasons (even if they’ve been unsuccessful at the next level).
          I agree we need to live in the realm of what’s possible. It’s why I’m not writing off Super Rugby, as many seem keen to do. We need it to survive at least long enough for a successor to appear. Your proposal, I’d be fine with it, provided it didn’t wipe out the NRC (because it ultimately reduces the quantity of Australian players being exposed to Rugby at a level above intra-City club games). It just won’t happen this cycle because no one’s ready for it – not the GRR teams, not RA with Clyne still involved.
          If Super Rugby declines and is replaced by a development of the NRC – with a longer season and no fewer teams – I’d be ok with that. Not ideal, because it’d be better if there were still Kiwi involvement (and better again from a tactical and physical perspective if the Saffas were still around – Kiwis won’t join the NRC, just as they won’t invite us to join NPC – both are poor ideas, massively underestimating Kiwis’ estimation of the NPC), but it could grow to be a great thing.
          Mentioning Clyne, it’s worth noting there’s a big article in the SMH about the former head of Foxtel (Kim Williams?) complaining that Rugby always overestimates its value, has done for years, is arrogant and self important. No question that could also describe Fox as an organisation, but if that’s how people previously involved in these discussions saw Rugby, there’s little reason to think that’s changed. That the new guys hold a higher opinion of Rugby.
          Clyne’s on the record today as saying he hopes a new deal can be reached with Foxtel, but the article pointed out that Harold Mitchell (former Rebels head) and another bloke have faced major investigations over lack of transparency over rights deals for the Australian Open. So the expectation from regulators is that these deals will now be done on the open market, with more transparency.
          This makes me feel like RA still wants to sign with Fox, but that they’re testing to see if there’s more money out there, and arguably even more critically for Mr Clyne (who’s already been in front of the Senate for both Rugby and his time as head of NAB), it ensures there’s no questions of impropriety or illegal dealings.
          So, once again, on the broadcast deal, Castle copping it for something that she actually seems to be doing in a pragmatic manner, according to what’s expected, even if it’s not popular.

        • Alister Smith

          I don’t think it’s Castle’s fault but I think that, regardless of who’s fault it is, she will probably go unless the TV deal is $45-50M or better and that is going to be very hard, particularly if they don’t give exclusive rights and get some FTA. They need some FTA coverage to get growth (though how much now is difficult as the nature of TV/Sports consumption has changed). Unfortunately, the financing model all seems to come down to TV rights for us. Other sports and nations with greater participation (and perhaps bigger crowds and merchandise sales) might be able to play harder ball on negotiations but we are more reliant on it. It is going to be very hard to get a good TV deal in the current environment, I have some sympathy for Castle as I think she isn’t fully/solely responsible for most of the big stuff ups and is more responsible for some of the good things but I am still yet to be fully convinced. If she loses on the TV dollars though the screams become deafening I am afraid and she will be punted, deserved or not.

        • Who?

          I fear you may be right on all of that.
          The really rough thing that no one’s considering is that, no only is it a far harder market to sell rights now than 5 years ago, but we’re offering less content. We don’t have five teams anymore. I was shocked that Fox didn’t attempt to renegotiate the rights deal when the Force were axed and the Kings and Cheetahs moved north a few years ago, but knew that it meant this deal was going to have us going in with Fox thinking we owed them. It’s amazing to think that Clyne would’ve been so myopic about that.

    • Mike D

      Agree. I am a big fan of Raelene. I think so far she has done a pretty bloody good job in the face of some fairly entrenched self-entitlement. On Folau thing… Israel who? Even with settling, I think the statement was very clear and hence successful; rugby’s bigger than one person, even if he thinks he’s pretty special (which apparently he does – No Izzy, God did NOT send the fires to punish us for gay marriage – you’re a tool mate, not a prophet).

      Also, I don’t recall Pulver walking into such a wall of vitriol to start his tenure. Seems like RC has had to work harder and is still kicking more goals… or more the point, scoring more tries. She’s kept stuff boiling along, supporting and expanding lower tier competitions and also the Women’s comp and the Sevens.

      When DeClyne leaves, I know RC doesn’t get a big say – it will be the board’s decision on the next Chairman – but she might be able to “flavour” the decision, which could lead to *gasp* a competent person from outside the incestuous, nepotistic little clique of brown-nosers. Not holding my breath on it, but hopefully will lead to more unified and directed team at least.

      Yes. Please hang in there Raelene. Australian Rugby needs you.

  • Yowie

    Regarding the Dave Rennie interview video (https://www.rugby.com.au/videos/2019/11/19/wallabies-rennie-interview ), he didn’t even ask if we “know what he means?” once.
    I just had to keep up with his cogent answers to questions. It’s an exhausting new experience.

    • Custard Taht

      I know what you mean.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      First time I’ve heard that and i think it sets a good scene. I’m a lot more confident in him being able to make the necessary changes at the Wallabies after hearing that.

    • astamax


  • Xaviera

    I’m sensing a turning point not only in the fortunes of Australian rugby, both perceived and real, and the commentary about RA’s CEO.

    I have found the spite and bile appalling, and naturally, with little basis in fact. It’s emotional, it’s misogynistic and it’s myopic, and plenty more other things too, but you get the picture. I delberately took the view to not respond, given both the quantum and similarity of the themes, and the view that responding to such trolls will only provide them with more oxygen. However, in the past few weeks, I reached a tipping point, and decided to start defending her, and advocating for her. That sentiment is gathering momentum, as has been witnessed in this forum, and of all places, The Oz (Wayne Smith’s article). I’m seeing it in the socials too. It gives me hope.

    The sentiments expressed here and, for example, in Smith’s article, represent a far smarter way to debate our great game’s future, and view the CEO’s track record. As mentioned above, plenty of good things happening too (who would have thought recent polls would have had rugby teams and tournaments so highly ranked – imagine what we could do if we were top of the pile?), and it is beholden upon us as a collective, and the informal, temporary custodians of the game, to provide some leadership and advocacy and focus on the game itself.

    Running the game in this country has never been easy. I’d argue it’s the most problematic of the national sports to run, and it has been difficult most of the time to separate the capability of the incumbent CEO from the good (or otherwise) cattle of whoever happened to be in the Wallabies at the time. Success can hide many faults, failure can highlight the smallest of flaws.

    For Raelene, as mentioned already, we’re coming to her time. The resettling of the board and the media rights are the last pieces of the puzzle to fall into place, and from then on, it’s her empire. May she lead it to enduring greatness and leave a legacy for a generation or more.

  • Adrian

    100% on the money Nick

  • Charcoal

    I agree that Raelene has been served a hospital pass and considering the circumstances, I think she has come out fairly well. A lot of the criticism of her has been based on misogynistic inferences, which are entirely unrelated to her performance.

    For example , one of her least acknowledged accomplishments is the reversal of the drain of talented schoolboy and Junior Rugby players to League and the expansion of the Australian Schoolboys to include Under 18 players from non-traditional Rugby schools, District Junior clubs and those who have left school, who would otherwise have missed out on selection. The pool of talented players to choose from has been increased exponentially. Hopefully this will continue with the re-engagement with the Public school system.

    The recent success of the Australian Schoolboys and U18 team against NZ Schoolboys after a long drought, as well as in the Under 20’s competition bears testimony to the success of this strategy. I’m actually surprised that it’s happened so quickly.

    As a proud New South Welshman, the last thing I want to see is a return to the Sydney Old Boys network running the show. The likes of O’Neill and his ilk have served their time and are yesterday’s men. They’re not what Australian Rugby now needs to resurrect the code, when many of the problems now confronting it are a direct result of their incompetent management. How anyone can suggest Phil Kearns, as great a player as he was, as CEO is beyond comprehension. What is needed is a much broader representation in the RA hierarchy, including the board, from across all Australian provinces.

    Finally, I’m really pissed off with the current negative reporting in the News Ltd media, particularly the Daily Terror in NSW, about the decline of Rugby in Australia, the Folau saga and the prospect of Foxtel being challenged for the broadcast rights to Super Rugby beyond next year, in which they obviously have a vested interest.

    Let’s face it, they’ve never been fully supportive of Rugby compared with their obsession with Rugby League, to which they devote pages and pages of mindless commentary. You can almost sense their glee with every negative article published about the decline of Rugby in the Australian sporting landscape.

    The best thing that could happen for Australian Rugby is to cut their ties with News Ltd and its Foxtel subsidiary, and seek alternative media platforms including FTA, although admittedly in financial terms, that won’t be easy. Foxtel’s continuing viability is questionable anyway, so why get involved with a loser?

    May I be so bold to suggest, that if Rugby can get back on track, in the longer term it can potentially supplant League as the dominant Rugby code in Australia, with its far broader international appeal. That would give it a major boost for broadcaster interest.

    • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

      The Clyne-Castle-Cheika is just another Sydney based old boys club. We need change but don’t think we will get it from the current administration

  • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

    Raelene is the current chairs pick as CEO and is therefore tainted by the same brush as Clyne. Clyne has been publicly defending her and accountable for what became the Force debacle. She has done nothing to restore the relationship with WA despite the comments from Forrest that boils down to that she is not as ineffective as the rest of RA. Whoever they pick for Chairman or CEO have little influence on WA Rugby as WA is kn its own

    • Brendan Hill

      As a West Australian, I have to disagree with you here. RC has no connection to the Force debacle and while we have every right to remain angry at Clyne (and Pulver) it is hardly fair to extent that anger to Castle. Clyne may have had a fair hand in selecting her, but she might become the only positive decision he ever made for Rugby in Australia.

      I say may, because of course that is still qualified by what she does now she is in clear air. Her reign up to now has been overshadowed by Clyne, like an ominous shadow forever behind her. She has obviously been forced to operate within whatever confines he has imposed (along with the board) but she seems to have still made some positive strides despite the environment surrounding her.

      Time will tell and that is the point. She needs time. I think the most important decision for rugby over the next 4 months isn’t the tv rights deal (though this is very important) but who will replace Clyne and will they enable those below them or dictate a new (old) world order?

      • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

        Brendan, hope you are right. Her first words about WA came down to she “drawn a line in the sand and expect WA to move on” didn’t give me any confidence that she understands the impact of axing the Force on WA Rugby. With the exception of Twiggy’s comparison between working with her vs Pulver I have not heard anything from her that gives me confidence. RA has been well prepared to bite one of the hands that feeds them.

        RA are talking to the WA government today to secure WA support for the 2027 RWC bid. They are also trying to secure financial support from Tourism WA for hosting the Boks in 2020 and a Bledisloe in 2021 after they made a killing with the 2019 Bledisloe test in Perth. If I was WA government I will not give my support lightly or without water tight legal commitment from RA to address some of the past wrongs.

        • I don’t live in WA but I’m not sure what else she could really do?

          She wasn’t involved in the decision, she was the newly appointed CEO yes, but she was surrounded by the board and chairman that had taken the decision. Whether or not she wanted to reverse it, she wasn’t going to be able to.

          She could have been more politic about how she said it, yes, but by saying she was drawing a line in the sand, brutal though it sounds, she’s also saying “Don’t get your hopes of a reversal up, mourn and lets look for something different.”

          Assuming Twiggy isn’t just blowing smoke up her arse – and he really doesn’t seem the type – when Clyne goes and if some of the others go, there’s a CEO with a good relationship with Twiggy in place and while we won’t see the Force return, there might be a sensible route for GRR and RA to mend bridges and work together and something to happen. Without that good relationship, rugby in WA will be in the wilderness for another decade, at least.

        • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

          There is a lot RA could have done to soften the blow to WA rugby community. This include using $1 million of the $14 million that Clyne claimed they saved from axing the Force in 2018 to put Rugby WA on a solid financial footing, treating the WF franchise like any of the other professional Australian rugby franchises e.g. Scott Johnson visiting the setup, liaise with our coach and seriously consider our players for the Wallabies and assisting Twiggy to get the GRR up and running earlier instead of dragging their feet. An apology on how WA fans were treated would have been welcomed but not realistic with Clyne, Robertson and the other clowns still on the Board. When RA axed the Force, Clyne promised that the WA rugby community is important and will not be abandoned, however RA has done the opposite with CR as CEO.

        • Given the state of RA’s finances I’m not sure “oh yes, we’ll just give them $1M” was actually a viable option.

          I would like RA to have not cut the Force or have done more after they did. But laying the blame solely at Castle’s feet seems unreasonable. In any organisation the CEO is more tactical leadership and the board more strategic. But if you’ve got a board that have just cut WA loose the CEO’s hands are pretty tied.

          I’m not saying she’s perfect and perhaps she could have done more. But spending $1M is a pipe dream. I’d be surprised if she’s in a situation to tell Johnson to go to WA and she’s certainly not going to be in a position to tell him who to select.

          Honestly Clyne seems like a political beast to me. He might have said they weren’t cutting WA loose. But you know what they say about politicians when their lips are moving…

        • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

          a comparison would be that RA took back the house but still expect Rugby WA to service the mortgage. If you axe a team you need to close out both sides of the ledger. They are profiteering from axing the Force at the cost of amateur rugby.

        • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

          Eloise, the assumption that RA should be financially better of with 4 instead of 5 Superugby franchises needs to be challenged. In 2015 the ARU got a 148% increase in media rights ($285 million) for the 2016-2020 period. Within two years they found themselves in financial trouble so that they had to axe the Force. In 2018 they saved $14.9 million in player fees most from axing the Force however they could only manage a small surplus and forecasted a larger shortfall in 2019.
          However RA continue to increase staff at headoffice and signed expensive player deals with players like Hooper, Beale, Genia, Cooper, Pocock and Folau (that was the most expensive in the world at the timing the deal was signed).
          It seems to me that RA will spend all the money they got, regardless if it there are four or five Superugby teams and that their financial position will remain desperate as they cannot manage money. What did the Australian rugby community get in return for losing WA? It is a very big price to and I cannot see any significant gains in return….

        • I think that’s an entirely different argument. I think cutting the Force was a decision that could be apparently be justified by the financial situation, but I’d suggest they went and ahead and actually did it more for political reasons. Something along the lines of “those upstarts out West are beating our good old boys back home too often.”

          They could have found a sponsor – Twiggy offered enough money after all – to plug a financial hole if they’d had the political will.

          But, again, blaming Castle for a decision that was made before her time is not reasonable.

          Pointing the finger at her for decisions since she’s been CEO requires digging through the minutes of the board meetings and finding out what she argued for. Are they even in the public domain?

  • RedAnt

    Wow, if the World Cup was based on shooting yourself in the foot, we would be undisputed champions.

    Up until all this political manoeuvring started a week or two ago, I have to say I was feeling more optimistic about rugby in this country than I had for a very long time.

    I’m actually excited by the new coaching set-up.

    The schools team shows there is a lot of talent coming through.

    The women’s game is growing strongly (which is and of itself is good, but also will help make rugby a more family-oriented game, and I believe that will boost spectator numbers).

    The NRC is starting to find its feet.

    Folau and Cheika are gone, and Clyne is going.

    The All Blacks are looking more vulnerable than they have in ages.

    The World Cup provided a great fillip to rugby in our region.

    OK, Castle is not responsible for all of those things, but she is for a good few of them. She deserves a fair go. The Old Boys, new-Christian, new-right oligarchy deserve to fuck right off.

  • LBJ

    No. That’s utterly absurd – Imagine going to your boss and asking for your assessment to begin at the bottom of the cycle..?

    “I know you’ve paid me nearly $2 million, but I wasn’t really paying attention when you interviewed me, and its been a really tough couple of years, and it wasn’t my fault, honestly – can we start my assessment from now instead?”

    Seriously – she’s not an amateur, she knew what she was getting into, she’s getting paid very well for the position and consummate with her experience and she must be accountable for her entire performance – there is no alternative.

    For what its worth, I think she’s been a generally competent administrator – with two clear, key failures around not cooling the Folau situation, and throwing the team and coach under the bus at the world cup; conversely, she has done good, important things with the women’s game.

    But her actual shortcoming is on the key matter of leadership (what a CEO really gets paid for).
    – she has presented no vision or strategy for the future of the game. (she is following Pulver’s strategy from 2015 – i trust this is at the direction of the board, but it doesn’t excuse a lack of clarity given the material changes in the environment).

    As she is a competent professional, i trust she is working on a new strategy, however it is clear she will not reveal it until after the new broadcast deal is complete (if she ever does) – that way she can back-solve to the numbers she has to work with. While this approach is smart self-marketing, it is extremely risky for a number of reasons. 1. She has never done this before (strategy or broadcast deal). 2. It is utterly unhelpful for the rugby community as there is no ability to influence the outcome (and given she has no experience in rugby one would think that is essential). 3. We will be stuck with the outcome for 5 years, so if it is a poor strategy – the sustainability of the game will be in real jeopardy. 4. Revealing the strategy and associated goals after the deal is done is akin to setting your objectives after you know what the achievements already are – its like cheating.

    To his credit Pulver did consult in the making of his strategy, and he did the release the objectives of the strategy in 2015. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his professionalism actually (although the Force scenario was unacceptable)
    – the problem with his strategy is that we will not hit any of those objectives.

    At the end of the day, if Castle is able to secure a similar or better broadcast deal to that which is currently in place, AND inspire and unite with a vision for the future of the game alongside a strategy to implement it, she will gain the support of the vast majority of the community.

    If she does not achieve BOTH of those things, she should fall on her sword and new leadership must be put implemented.

    This isn’t open-mike night, the game in Australia depends upon strong leadership.

    • paul

      Great Post. I agree with with your points especially where is the strategy moving forward, what is the point of a broadcast deal if all it does is cement the previous structure in place for another 4 years.

      As has been pointed out from day one about 150 people do very well out of rugby union in this country every year, and are in no hurry to change that.???????????

      I want to challenge one perception (and I may well be wrong), but I was under the understanding re Cheika & Castles stoush in Japan.

      Apparently Cheika knew months in advance of that function and the request to send players. And all he had to do was send 2 or 3 non playing members to satisfy the requirement.

      if that is right then I think he comes across as utterly petulant, yes it was the world cup, but he was a professional coach paid a $million a year, he needed to deal with that situation without spitting the dummy.

      • Custard Taht

        I thought he offered non-playing members and was told that the whole team had to attend, and the compromise was a handful of players had to go.

        • paul

          I not sure the exact details I heard that he said no players were to attend and then Castle went to Johnson to arrange a few non-players, but the point is these people are on big $dollars.
          How could 2 people on pretty much $million a year salaries end up in a shouting match at the Japanese embassy.

        • Custard Taht

          Exactly it….the two most public figures of the organisation acting like schoolyard children…… embarrassing.

    • Who?

      Where did Castle throw the team under the bus at the RWC? I see where Cheika couldn’t be bothered answering requests for players to attend a function, and then abused his boss (not even his immediate supervisor – the person above his supervisor) for finding an alternative method to fulfil the minimum obligations they faced. And I see where she apologised for his behaviour towards officials. But I don’t see where she threw the team under the bus.
      And I don’t find Cheika’s behaviour to have been acceptable. It wasn’t his worst, but, given he’s now gone, it made some sense for Castle to try and draw a line under it so the officials don’t look at gold jerseys and think “Grumpy Cheika!”
      Folau, now, I don’t know that RA’s direction in the whole thing was intelligent. But I do think she handled it according to the Board’s direction, according to the pressures she faced from sponsors, and from the media. I don’t think Castle was entirely to blame for all the strategy, but she stepped forward. I mean, the bloke wasn’t even playing for RA at the time of his two most controversial posts – he was a Tah. And they went into hiding, immediately pointing everyone to her. Ultimately, he won, because he got what he wanted (his CoC breach was effectively acknowledged as not a breach, he received an apology and most of his contract was paid out), and RA won (because they got out of it for far less than could have been the case, it’s over before the Super season, and they no longer are associated with someone they don’t understand and consider bigoted – even if they acknowledge he doesn’t tolerate discrimination of any sort).
      I hope she can provide leadership, but reality is that this has been Clyne’s era, since he stepped in and started pushing around Pulver and pushing out the Force. We can only wait and see what she can do as the fool Clyne leaves the building.
      I agree with you that Pulver did have a pretty reasonable tenure. It’s just terrible that Clyne jumped in and drove things through the Force debacle, spoiling Bill’s legacy. It never felt like Bill wanted to axe the Force, it just felt like he was a passenger who couldn’t control the freight train driven by Clyne. Bill did some good things, not least being NRC (even if the QRU Board initially described it as ‘a competition announcement by thought bubble’ – most stakeholders got on board and made it work well) and investing in women’s rugby (which Castle’s continued). Not all good – he did introduce massive additional costs to local clubs from 2014 (2016 in NSW). But overall, if he could’ve avoided the Force drama, his legacy would’ve been positive.
      But I don’t think it’s realistic for anyone to get the same money or better than we currently have. We have less content and fewer teams than when we last negotiated an agreemtn, and the internet’s stolen (literally) all the advertising money. None of that is Castle’s fault. I couldn’t believe that Clyne thought that axing the Force would be ok for future broadcasting deals – I’m shocked that Fox didn’t immediately renegotiate our money down. So I don’t imagine that Pulver, or JON, or anyone else would have any better hopes of negotiating better money than last time. And I’m at least given some sliver of confidence that she’s doing her best as it’s been reported that she’s consulting with some very experienced campaigners, who were involved in the NRL’s last rights deal.

  • The Jackal

    Tough to attract any TV money when you lose all the talent every four years. Tough to marked on it as well. Super Rugby is a bit of a lemon these days just due to the amount of cash on offer in Europe and the dire state of domestic affairs in South Africa.

    Wallabies Leaving Post World Cup

    Sekope Kepu (London Irish)
    Nick Phipps (London Irish)
    Curtis Rona (London Irish)
    Bernard Foley (Kubota Spears)
    Rory Arnold (Toulouse)
    Sam Carter (Ulster)
    David Pocock (Panasonic Wild Knights)
    Christian Leali’ifano (NTT Communications Shining Arcs)
    Adam Coleman (London Irish)
    Quade Cooper (Kintetsu Liners)
    Will Genia (Kintetsu Lines)
    Caleb Timu (Montpellier)
    Scott Higginbotham (Bordeaux)
    Samu Kerevi (Suntory Sungoliath)
    Sefa Naivalu (Stade Francais)
    Israel Folau (Released)

    Super Rugby Internationals Leaving Post World Cup

    Brodie Retallick (Kobelco Steelers)
    Owen Franks (Northampton Saints)
    Sam Whitelock (Panasonic Wild Knights)
    Jordan Taufua (Leicester Tigers)
    Kieran Read (Toyota Verblitz)
    Ryan Crotty (Kubota Spears)
    Jackson Hemopo (Mitsubishi DynaBoars)
    Luke Whitelock (Pau)
    Liam Squire (NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes)
    Waisake Naholo (London Irish)
    Ben Smith (Pau)
    Nehe Milner Skudder (Toulon)
    Augustine Pulu (Hino Red Dolphins)
    Melani Nanai (Worcester Warriors)
    Santiago Garcia Botta (Harlequins)
    Tomas Lavanini (Leicester Tigers)
    Pablo Matera (Stade Francais)
    Martin Landajo (Harlequins)
    Lood de Jager (Sale Sharks)
    RG Snyman (Honda Heat)
    Duane Vermeulen (Kubota Spears)
    Handre Pollard (Montpellier)
    Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles)
    Coenie Oosthuizen (Sale Sharks)
    Akker van der Merwe (Sale Sharks)
    Robert du Preez (Sale Sharks)
    Eben Etzebeth (Toulon)
    Damian de Allende (Panasonic Wild Knights)
    Malcolm Marx (NTT Japan)
    Sonny Bill Williams (Wolfpack)
    Ma’a Nonu (San Diego Legion)
    Tendai Mtawarira (Retired)
    Schalk Brits (Retired)
    Matt Todd (Toshiba)
    Tolu Latu (Stade Francais)
    Matt Proctor (Northampton)
    Kwagga Smith (Yamaha)
    Lionel Mapoe (Stade Francais)

  • Patrick

    The board sure needs changing, but I haven’t seen any clear indication of what would be improved by changing her. And I think she’s done pretty well till now, the Folau thing was a clusterfuck, and I really really struggle with the Cheika renewal but I do accept that she didn’t really have much choice at that time. Apart from that she nearly saved us from Cheika despite everything, the NRC is still there, the women’s game is still growing and the junior ranks are going great guns, there’s a lot to like.

  • JJ

    Was it prophetic that the Clyne”s lanyard is turning his t-shirt from “Team Aus” to read like “Ta Aus”, as in Ta-ta (good-bye).

  • Phil Geier

    Come on….those are “nice” words but Castles has had 2 years and Australia has nothing but Rugby going down the drain. At this pace it will never recover and like it or not if you don’t let Australians run Aussie rugby it will go into free fall..Wake up!!


Die-hard Brumbies/Country Eagles fan now based in Sydney. Author, anthropologist, musician, second rower. Still trying to make sense of the 21st century. Dropped a debut novel last year...

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