Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle says she “100 per cent” backs the move of Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to stand down Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper from Sunday’s Twickenham Test.
Ashley-Cooper and Beale were stood down by Cheika after the team’s leadership group told the coach of the pair breaching team protocol by inviting friends back to their hotel room after the Wallaibes’ 9-6 loss to Wales.
The Wallabies have a strict team rule banning guests in hotel rooms and though the women were believed to be Ashley-Cooper’s sister-in-law and two friends, who left well before midnight, it was considered a breach.
Australia’s leadership group discussed the issue in the lead-up to the Italy Test before bringing it to Cheika on Tuesday, who decided a one-match suspension was appropriate but that it would be dealt with inside team walls.
Castle said Cheika spoke to her that same day and she supported the team’s decision to stand the pair down.
"The team has got standards, they put those standards in place for a reason, the two boys have breached those standards and the playing group and Michael (Cheika) came to me and said 'This is what we're recommending on the situation", and I support them in that stance 100 per cent,’ she said.
Asked if she'd spoken to the pair, Castle said she didn't feel the issue was one she needed to be involved with, considering the issue an internal team matter.
"I haven't spoken to (Beale or Ashley-Cooper), I've spoken to Hoops and to Michael (Cheika), but as far as I'm concerned it's not something I need to get involved with," she said.
Cheika declared on Thursday that Beale's omission was due to form, but after news broke in Australia about the suspension he denied he'd been trying to cover up the suspensions.
Cheika said he believed such sanctions are more effective when kept private.
"I know that's your mentality to think everything is a cover-up, but it's not, I want to be really clear," Cheika told reporters.
"No there isn't any wider cultural issue, this is a situation where two boys brought some friends and family back into their hotel without thinking of the implications of that, because they were friends and family,” she said.
"But once it was pointed out to them that the rule was there for a reason, they recognised that they had erred, and they accepted the team and Michael's position.
"They've taken that as senior players as you'd expect them to, and they support the team rules that are in place.
"While disappointed, I must say they're disappointed that they've put the team in this situation, but they accept the rules are in place to be lived by.
Castle praised the leadership group for making a difficult decision to punish their teammates, a call Hooper said earlier in the day was "extremely hard".
"Absolutely, because the alternative is that they realise they could have just brushed it under the carpet and no one would have been any the wiser.
"But that's often when the creaks start. You've got rules in place, you've got a line in the sand, and that's the line in the sand that Michael has used and you've got to live by it.
"At the end of the day you've got to call it, and they did, and I support that."
Both players have faced off-field punishments in the past but Castle said that played no factor in the discussions around this latest incident.
A 4-8 record going into the final Test of the season is not one that anyone would be satisfied with and with less than a year until the showpiece tournament, there is plenty of work to be done.
News that two senior players broke team protocol, albeit with a very minor indiscretion, was not something that the Wallabies needed ahead of that last outing in England.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the week, Castle said there would be a usual review process once the Wallabies returned to Australia, with any changes to be made before Christmas.
It seems unlikely there will be any overhaul of the Wallabies environment but Castle said the review would be pivotal heading into a World Cup year.
“There's no doubt the review process of this Wallabies season is important,” Castle said.
“We're nine months really until, once we get through Christmas, into the World Cup next year. We need to make sure we've got our Super teams in a place where they can perform consistently over this Super Rugby tournament because that's what builds the platform for Wallaby success both in the performances they have, learning how to win, being confident and playing good rugby.
“I think that piece is really important.
Next season will be the culmination of Cheika’s tenure and their finish in the World Cup will likely colour the past four years, something Cheika has himself admitted.
Castle and the Rugby AU board have consistently backed the Wallabies staff and she said that would continue right through to the World CUp.
“We're all together in this. We all have to stand shoulder to shoulder,” she said.
“My start point is not a half glass empty view of that.
“We believe that we've got a head coach who's experienced, that's led a party through a World Cup before, one of his biggest strengths is going into a campaign-type environment where he'll get the boys offshore, he'll actually have them consistently for about 8-10 weeks where they'll be able to build that momentum inside the environment and lead into a World Cup.
“So, there's no doubt, we have got a review to do and we need to look under every cover and make sure we've identified the things that aren't working as well as they should've and opportunities that we can improve but we're there shoulder to shoulder and ultimately we're there because we believe that we can be successful at the World Cup.:
Castle expects any review to be complete by Christmas, with 2019 well and truly bedded down by the end of the year.