Rugby Australia bet on an outsider in huge gamble

Rugby Australia is betting the house on another rebel outsider to help get its finances back in the black after the messy resignation of Raelene Castle.

But it's not Phil Kearns, the outspoken two-time World Cup winner who is emerging as one of the favourites to succeed the departed Kiwi as chief executive.

And it's not Peter Wiggs, one of the high rollers in the Australian private equity market who played a key role in Castle's resignation just three weeks after he joined the board.

It's Agustin Pichot, the former Argentine captain who is running against Bill Beaumont for the position of World Rugby chairman.

The Englishman has got the backing of the powerful European establishment but Australia is supporting Pichot because the pay-off if he wins will be the game changer RA needs.

If there's one clear takeout every rugby administrator should remember after Castle was left blindsided by the board that had lost faith in her, it's that everyone is in it for themselves so it's prudent to follow the mantra of keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer.

That's why RA is joining forces with New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina in a southern hemisphere coalition that will vote for Pichot in Sunday's election, with the result announced in mid May.

"We as SANZAAR decided collectively that we would support our own in that regard and we've been very upfront with Bill Beaumont, the current chairman, about that," RA executive chairman Paul McLean said.

"We were very disappointed that we didn't get the global competition up and running last year. There's no greater interest than self interest and that was the case in that regard because we thought it would have been a defining moment in our game."

RA's also motivated by self interest and there's nothing wrong with that.

For all the talk about breaking away from SANZAAR and going it alone, RA needs its biggest rivals more than ever if it's to climb out of the financial hole it finds itself in.

As the only country in the world with four professional football codes, RA relies on its regular international competitions as a key point of difference and a key source of income.


Raelene Castle was blindsided after her board lost faith in her.
Raelene Castle was blindsided after her board lost faith in her.


That's why RA is so desperate to reignite Pichot's failed attempt to create an annual World Nations League that will deliver billions of dollars of new revenue to the game.

It was rejected last year when some of the weaker northern hemisphere countries opposed the idea of a promotion and relegation system offering developing nations a way into the elite 12-national top tier if they were good enough, but it'll be back on the table if the Latin American wins the election.

"We thought it was just a no-brainer," McLean said.

"Anyway that didn't happen and we've made it clear that we were unhappy about that and we were unhappy about the process … because there was a benefit not just to the SANZAAR countries but our Pacific Island region et cetera

"So we stuck together and SANZAAR have done that and we let it be known to the northern hemisphere that we're unhappy about that and we think it should be revisited sooner rather than later."

The rush to create a lucrative global league has become even more critical to RA because it offers some hope of securing a television deal for 2021-25 after Castle turned down a $200 million offer from Fox Sports.

Broadcast rights are forecast to drop in the post COVID-19 which could spell the end of Super Rugby as we know it so a new international competition to fill the void is needed.

With international borders closed for the foreseeable future, all the Super rugby teams will play internal domestic competitions when matches resume in July which could be expanded to a trans-Tasman competition next year with the high cost of travel meaning South African and Argentine provincial teams will hold a separate competition.



Originally published as Rugby Australia bet on an outsider in huge gamble