Rennie just one brick in Rugby Australia's "rebuild phase"

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The unveiling of Dave Rennie as Wallabies coach on Wednesday was a significant moment for Rugby Australia but even CEO Raelene Castle admits it is just one piece of the puzzle.

Rebuilding is a term often heard around football clubs, but rarely do you hear it used to describe an organisation-wide status.

On Wednesday, Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle was frank in admitting that the entire business was in a “rebuild phase”, one that goes beyond just Wallabies wins and losses.

Sure, the final ledger is certainly part of the overhaul - most overwhelmingly a 17-year Bledisloe Cup drought - but Castle was quick to mention the other elements that are being pieced together.

“In a rebuild phase. That's the reality of it,” she said.

“We've had some really difficult times and there's been lots of people working really hard, not just here at Rugby Australia but with our Super clubs, with our states and territories, our member unions - I've just spent three days in Darwin with RugbyNT, understanding what the volunteers and the people that love rugby are doing up there to grow the sport.

“Doing lots of great things and growing opportunities, not just for XVs but in Sevens and in women's rugby so there is significant growth happening across the country.

“There's lots of positive stories to be told and we need to keep telling those stories and we also need the Wallabies to be successful.”

Rennie’s appointment also proved symbolic - ushering in a new era on the field but also signifying a shift into an organisation that will be truly part of the Castle administration.

With the Wallabies coaching change official, there is little left over now from previous administrations - this is well and truly an organisation being developed with a clean slate.

Since Castle took over the chief executive position at the beginning of 2018, the organisation has moved to a more united model when it comes to high performance, aiming to align the states more closely together and with Rugby AU.



Scott Johnson’s appointment at the beginning of 2019 was a major part in that as well, ensuring greater structure was implemented in the national team workings.

Michael Cheika’s Wallabies were the final major feature still carried over from Castle’s predecessor, but with his resignation came a chance to clear those decks.

Castle said on Wednesday that Australian rugby saw those elements as fundamental to constructing a successful blueprint.

“We've made some really significant changes with the restructuring of our high performance which can't be underestimated, the appointment of Scott, the involvement with Super Rugby teams signing into a high performance agreement that aligns all of our high performance plans right from 18s through into the Wallabies, making sure that we've got coaching alignment over the top of that and athletic performance,” she said.

“That's a very significant move forward, a platform that has never been delivered in Australia's rugby history before and we believe that structure will deliver us success.”

Away from the high performance sector as well, Castle has been relatively swift in personnel changes, seeing a host of executive change in her tenure.

With Rennie appointed and a looming board overhaul, after chairman Cameron Clyne flagged his looming resignation, a new broadcast deal looms as the next big piece of the Australian rugby puzzle.

Both New Zealand and South Africa has signed off their deals but Australia’s equation is somewhat more complicated.

The future of the National Rugby Championship and indeed what Australia’s third tier competitions look like are still being debated.

There has been public discussion about the NRC and the role that Australia’s club competitions should play in any third-tier role and the results of that to and fro will prove critical in the deal’s outcome.

It is expected that an agreement will be finalised early in 2020 but exactly what it might look like is very much unclear.

What is clear, though, is that the next year will be a telling one in the “rebuild phase”.