Well readers, the eight current and remaining directors of the ARU held a board meeting yesterday. And according to the St Leonards grape vine, palms are sweaty around the board table as Justice David Hammerschlag prepares to hand down his critical appeal decision in the NSW Supreme Court, which is expected late this week or early next week.
Here’s why. Firstly, the ARU board clearly didn’t think RugbyWA would get past first base with last week’s special leave application in the NSW Supreme Court to appeal the arbitration ruling which triggered the ARU’s move to axe the Force from Super Rugby. So Justice Hammerschlag’s ruling that there was in fact legal merit for an appeal in the first place got the nerves going at St Leonards, especially when you consider the following consequences of an appeal ruling in RugbyWA’s favour:
- The Force would be back in Super Rugby, where they belong. (With the heat probably going on the Sunwolves to achieve SANZAAR’s desired 15 team Super Rugby competition).
- ARU Chairman Cameron Clyne would be under pressure to resign, having previously threatened to fall on his sword if the ARU was unable to cull one of the five Australian Super Rugby teams.
- The ARU Board would have blown the most generous offer in Australian sporting history – Andrew Forrest’s pledge to provide circa $50 million in funding for the code nationally, primarily at grassroots level.
Now point 2 above is where the cracks are starting to show in the ARU board room. Your columnist understands that during the Adelaide meeting last week with WA trio Andrew Forrest, John Welborn and Geoff Stooke, Cameron Clyne not only snubbed Twiggy’s funding offer, but he also suggested he would not be the fall guy if the ARU couldn’t cull a team. Rather, it was suggested, the entire ARU board would resign if five couldn’t become four.
Soon after, in a talkback radio interview with John Welborn, Alan Jones appeared to pick up Clyne’s “I’m not going to be the fall guy for this mess” stance and run with it. Jones suggested some ARU directors were white-anting Clyne from within. Jones then threatened to expose those ARU directors on air if they didn’t stop their white-anting. He then singled out ARU director John Eales for a serve, suggesting the former Wallabies skipper had nothing to contribute at board level. Then, perhaps most remarkably, Jones finished his interview with this bouquet from left field: “Certainly Cameron Clyne is trying to talk to everybody and that’s to his credit.” Wow.
So it was with all those undercurrents and rips flowing that the ARU held its critical board meeting yesterday. In today’s Australian newspaper, rugby reporter Wayne Smith said he understood Twiggy’s funding offer was “fully debated” at the board meeting, adding that the ARU was anxious to work with Forrest. Well that can only happen if the ARU changes its mind and decides to keep the Force in Super Rugby, appeal decision or no appeal decision.
Apart from Twiggy’s funding offer, the other thing that has changed since the ARU board last met and decided to axe the Force was the revelation that Rob Clarke has now bobbed up working for the Rebels. As your columnist flagged last week, Clarke is on the Rebels committee interviewing for the vacant role of head coach. Clarke was, of course, the ARU’s recently-departed chief operating officer who recommended the ARU board axe the Force and spare the Rebels. Hmmm.
And if that wasn’t enough for the ARU board to mull over, there is also the lingering threat of a Federal Senate enquiry which will shine a spotlight on who knew what and when. Perhaps rapper Eminem was thinking about the ARU board when he sang, in the hit Lose Yourself: “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.”
The big question now is whether the ARU board will roll the dice and wait for Justice Hammerschlag’s decision, or show the leadership required to resolve it sooner by reversing their decision to axe the Force. You might call it the $50 million question. Or, as Eminem might say: “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”