Rugby: Rebuilt trans-Tasman relations on agenda for NZ Rugby, Rugby Australia forum next week

Trans-Tasman rugby relations will again come under the spotlight next week, when New Zealand and Australian administrators gather for the first time since former Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan was deposed last month.

The rivalry hit an all-time low over the past couple of years, with McLennan leading the attack on his counterparts on this side of the ditch, amid other controversial decisions during his tenure.

The successful businessman was instrumental in removing former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie from his role at the helm of the Wallabies, replacing him with former Australia, Japan and England mentor Eddie Jones, who guided the team to their first World Cup poolplay exit and then quit one year into his five-year contract.

Rugby Australia chair Daniel Herbert and NZ Rugby chair Dame Patsy Reddy.
Rugby Australia chair Daniel Herbert and NZ Rugby chair Dame Patsy Reddy. Photo credit: Getty Images

McLennan was driven out by an uprising among most of Australia's state unions, who had lost confidence in his leadership, with former international player Daniel Herbert elevated to the board chair.

Herbert and former Wallabies teammate Phil Waugh, now Rugby Australia chief executive, are now charged with dragging the game out of the doldrums and mending a fractured relationship with their closest neighbours.

"I think there's been enough speculation on Hamish now to last a while on both sides of the Tasman," chuckled NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson, when quizzed about the new landscape. "We're really focused on moving on.

"We were in contract with Hamish at the time and wished him well, but this is about the next frontier for trans-Tasman rugby and that's how we're approaching this. Monday is the opportunity to do that."

While Robinson and Waugh have been frequent correspondents in their fulltime roles, the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific interim board meeting will provide NZ Rugby chair Dame Patsy Reddy and board member Bailey Mackey a chance to sit down with Herbert at a governance level.

"They've been through a challenging time, we've been very public in our support of Phil and Dan," said Robinson. "Dan's a fantastic guy.

"All the interaction we've had since that time has been really positive, collaborative, engaging and we're really looking forward to continuing to work with them."

During a playing career with the Crusaders and All Blacks, Robinson faced off against both Waugh and Herbert on the field, so that relationship goes way back. 

"We're really wishing them well and we're there if there's ever anything they want to talk through or anything we can do to work together, regionally or internationally, then we're open to that."

Hamish McLennan & Eddie Jones.
Hamish McLennan & Eddie Jones. Photo credit: Getty Images

One of the biggest sticking points in the relationship was New Zealand's contention that Australia did not have enough player depth to support five Super Rugby franchises. Outraged by the Kiwis' arrogance, McLennan threatened to withdraw his teams altogether from 2024.

No Australian team has reached a Super Rugby final since the Waratahs won in 2014, despite the departure of South African, Japanese and Argentinian teams in the meantime, and the Wallabies' early World Cup demise would suggest a rethink is indeed required. 

"We always consider the importance of Australia strategically to us as meaning we had to work really, really hard at that relationship," reflected Robinson. "That will continue to be the case, as it was the case over the past few years.

"There's no secret there were some challenges amongst that, but like a lot of things in rugby, we're really looking forward here and we see a lot of opportunity.

"We've got great colleagues from many years of playing and administering the game. We've always had friends in Australian rugby and we'll continue to do so going forward."