Roger Davis was last month appointed the new chairman of the Waratahs Rugby Board after Edwin Zemancheff stepped down after more than two years at the helm. Davis had joined the board in June.
It’s doubtful if anyone else could bring such a playing and business background to the position of leader of the Waratahs. In this exclusive interview, he details his representative playing career below.
In business, Davis has attained an equally high status. He is former managing director of ANZ Banking Group and managing director of Citigroup, where he spent 20 years in senior executive positions. He remains consulting director of Rothschild Australia Limited, past chairman of Charterhall Office Management and currently sits on a number of other boards, including the Bank of Queensland, Argo Ltd, Trust Company Ltd and Ardent Leisure Ltd and is chairman of Chartis Australia Ltd.
Q: As the new Waratahs Rugby chairman, what influenced you to become as involved in the game’s administration?
A: To start with I’ve always had a great passion for the game. I learned my rugby at The King’s School, Parramatta, then Sydney University and my love and involvement has continued ever since then. More recently I was part of the Australian Rugby Union’s career training scheme, where we looked way beyond the tryline for the players. We tried to help them move from a sports degree to a higher degree. The base salary for many of them – after their playing days – was about $30,000 and so our aim was to get them moving toward a higher career path.
Q: For those who might not be aware, could you summarise your own playing career?
A: I played much of my rugby at University under Dave Brockhoff’s coaching. Then I made my way through the Sydney and NSW sides before being picked in the second-row for Australia in 1974, when I played all three Tests against New Zealand. At the end of that season I won a Rhodes Scholarship and entered Pembroke College, Oxford where I did my Master of Philosophy degree. I also have a Bachelor of Economics (Hons) degree from my years at Sydney University. I played for Oxford in the 1974-75 season, then came back here and made a brief appearance in representative football before retiring to concentrate on my business career.
Q: Do you still follow Sydney University closely?
A: Absolutely. I’m involved with the club on its federation board, which aims at helping players through their playing careers before putting them on the right career paths. I work on that alongside fellow business personnel like Michael Hawker, David Mortimer and Cameron Clyne.
Q: What do you see as the main issues confronting the game in NSW and the Waratahs board?
A: First and foremost, those of us on the board are determined to ensure that the HSBC Waratahs and NSW Rugby have a successful culture that is rewarding for fans, players and partners alike and the appointment of a new head coach is the key to achieving that result. We’ve got to get a high calibre coach for the Waratahs who will lead us on a winning path. Then our priority will be engaging with the community game.
Q: In the long run, crowd appeal and retaining sponsors all amount to winning more matches, correct?
A: Exactly right. In the end, it’s all about the product you provide and with rugby it’s about providing people with entertainment, which means exciting and attractive rugby. Everybody likes to see their side win. We don’t function in the same context as the AFL in Melbourne, where tribalism is such an over-riding issue that match results can almost be secondary. Followers of rugby in Sydney want to see their side winning. Otherwise they will stay at home, or choose to watch it on television.
Q: As a former Waratahs and Wallabies player, what do you think needs to change for Australian Rugby and the Waratahs to be more competitive on the world stage?
A: For a start, the playing talent’s definitely there at both levels. So it’s not a talent issue. Initially it’s about fitness, leadership and drive. Then it’s a matter of bringing that together collectively and that applies to both the Waratahs and the Wallabies. And, might I add, the sooner we do that the better.
Q: The Waratahs Rugby Board is in the process of appointing a new head coach to replace Michael Foley. At what stage is that at and is there any likelihood of that person coming from another State or country?
A: The Waratahs Rugby Board is hoping to announce the name of the new Waratahs head coach either this or next week. We’ve looked closely at everyone who has put their hand up for the job. The applicants have come from NSW, interstate and overseas. It has been an extensive and interesting process, as it gives a clear indication to the board as to what the future holds. And I might add that we’ve been most impressed with the quality of the applicants we’ve interviewed.
Q: Does having Super Rugby matches on weekend afternoons appeal to you and, if so, can we expect to see more of them at Moore Park in 2013?
A: Most definitely. The board would like to stage as many matches on Sunday afternoons as we possibly can because of the added appeal they have for families and young people. We are controlled in those numbers by Fox Sports, but in 2013 I can tell you now that we’ll have two Super Rugby matches in the afternoon at Moore Park, plus hopefully the much-anticipated match against the British & Irish Lions on 15 June. We’ve just got to hope that the Waratahs are well positioned on the ladder and we’re up against top opposition. We’re fully aware
that going to the rugby has become expensive and that it’s too late being out at 10.30 at night for many families. So we have Jason Allen (CEO) working hard at getting two matches being played on Sunday afternoons, along with the Lions fixture.
Q: Can we expect to see many, if any changes to the Waratahs playing squad in 2013?
A: Yes, we’ve got a few exciting additions, including young Wallaby flanker Michael Hooper and some promising local youngsters in Sydney Uni wing Michael Hodge and fulllback Cam Crawford, who comes home after two years in Canberra. Plus we’ve got high expectations this year for the talent that’s coming through our ranks with the likes of Bernard Foley, Tom Kingston and Lopeti Timani.
Q: Your wider umbrella must embrace club and suburban rugby as well. It has clearly changed since your playing days and how would you like to see it improved to increase both playing
numbers and attendances?
A: I can go back to my own playing days in the 1970s when we had a string of representative players in our University lineup and Norths had almost a whole pack of Test forwards. While we mightn’t see those numbers on a regular basis nowadays, our grassroots rugby still produces very good football. We might read a lot of negativity in some parts of the media, but club rugby is still of an exceptionally high standard and Robbie Deans, for one, fully supports the idea of seeing as many Wallabies as possible playing for their clubs when they’re not selected for
Australia. His approach is that if they’re not in the 25-man Wallabies playing squad, then they’ve got to get out on the paddock elsewhere. All the applicants that we have interviewed for the Waratahs head coaching position support that idea as well.
Q: Finally, your pick to win today’s grand final?
A: Jim, what a silly question... Of course my money’s on University, but let me say that two years ago the best match I watched all season was that against Southern Districts at University Oval. It was an absolute cracker of a match. Mark my words, they’re a very good side and it’s so good having them there in the grand final. Good luck to them!