Former ARU deputy to front inquiry

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Former ARU chief operating officer Rob Clarke will front a senate committee on Wednesday, in the second hearing of the senate inquiry into Australian rugby.

Clarke was with the governing body until June this year, when he resigned, amid the ongoing saga engulfing the sport, with chief financial officer Todd Day following soon after, though their moves were not believed to be directly related to the Super Rugby issue.

The former Rebels and Brumbies CEO played a key role in establishing the alliance agreement that the Force signed with the ARU in 2016 and was also heavily involved in meetings as the ARU's decision to cut a Super Rugby team unfolded.

In last month's hearing, former Force general manager Mark Sinderberry suggested that Clarke had given that document, which CEO Bill Pulver told the committee last month was commercial in confidence, to VRU president Tim North.

Mark Sinderberry at the Force's final home game. Photo: Getty ImagesDuring their questioning of Sinderberry and RugbyWA chairman Tony Howarth, the pair suggested North, who led the VRU's re-purchasing of the Rebels license from Andrew Cox:

Mr Howarth: Yes. Our understanding is that that agreement was given to Tim North, who is the chair—

Mr Sinderberry: Tim North told me that he was given it.

Mr Howarth: Tim North told Mark he was given the agreement.

Mr Sinderberry: The agreement itself.

Senator Linda Reynolds: The confidental agreement

Mr Sinderberry : The alliance agreement—

Senator Linda Reynolds: That ARU today wouldn't release to the Senate and to the public in terms of the alliance because, he said, it was commercial in confidence between you and the ARU. You are happy to provide a copy, so one party to the alliance is happy to provide the details. But you're saying that Melbourne Rebels or Victorian Rugby—

Mr Howarth : Tim North, the chairman of the Victorian Rugby Union, who is now the owner of the Rebels.

Senator Reynolds: So, Victorian Rugby Union had a copy of this commercial in confidence document that Mr Pulver wouldn't release?

Mr Sinderberry : Correct. My understanding from Tim North—he said to me that there were three people in the room: the most senior person was Bill Pulver; the in-house counsel, Richard; and the other person was Rob Clarke, the chief operating officer. The first two have denied absolutely giving him the document.

Rob Clarke has resigned. Photo: Getty ImagesClarke will be just one of six witnesses to be questioned on Wednesday, with he and VRU president North appearing via teleconference.

WA sports minister Michael Murray will kick off proceedings at 9am AWST, 12 noon AEDT, with RUPA CEO Ross Xenos to follow.

North will be the first witness after the morning break, followed by Clarke.

Former Wallaby John Welborn, who was the first WA-born Australian Test PLayer, and former Rebels CEO Peter Leahy will round out the day.

Four submissions have, at the time of writing, been made to the inquiry, ahead of the October 12 deadline, with the final report to be handed down on November 15, incuding one from a Western Force board member and a foundation club member.

Regardless of the outcome, it seems unlikely the Force's fate in Super Rugby will change, after their loss in the Supreme Court earlier this year and no forthcoming appeal from the WA camp.

Progress on Andrew Forrest's proposed Indo Pacific Rugby Championship has also been slow, though the ARU had tentatively committed resources to working with the mining magnate in finding a way forward.

Wednesday's hearing will be held in Perth and open to the public. Audio will be available here.