UPDATE: Rugby AU and RUPA to meet on Sunday

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players Association are set to begin formal negotiations about a short-term player pay deal on Sunday after a breakthrough between the two parties.

RUPA announced on Saturday morning that Rugby AU had provided it with the financial information it has requested in recent weeks and they were willing to then develop a position from that.

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle and chairman Paul McLean will meet with the players body on Sunday at 2pm AEST, which will be the first at which both parties are likely to have a position on players' situation.

Rugby Australia is seeking a three-month deal after making widespread cuts to its own workforce, standing down 75 per cent of administration staff until June 30, and announcing a 50 per cent pay cut for Castle and 30 per cent cuts for the executive for the same period.

Castle and McLean released a statement on Saturday afternoon confirming details of the meeting.

Raelene Castle and Paul McLean will meet with the players on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images"RUPA has today accepted an invitation to meet with Rugby Australia at 2pm AEDT tomorrow (Sunday) and we look forward to reaching a fair and reasonable agreement given the current circumstances the game is facing," the statement read.

Castle and McLean said in the statement that talks would be with the "best interests of all its members" in mind.

"Rugby Australia is continuing its negotiations with the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) in good faith regarding a short term pay deal with players," the statement read.

These negotiations have unfortunately been brought about as a result of the devastating impacts of the global COVID-19 health and now economic crisis, the circumstances of which have decimated global sport and business at all levels."

"Rugby Australia today provided RUPA with the specific financial information requested that is directly related to the current financial situation facing the game as a result of this global pandemic.

"Following further discussions over the past 24 hours, Rugby Australia believes the financial information it has provided today allows RUPA to accurately advise the players on these negotiations.

Castle has taken a 50 per cent pay cut for the next three months. Photo:Getty ImagesRugby Australia has and will continue to act in the best interests of all its members, including players, for the greater good of the game. It has made significant cuts across the game, with cost savings of over 75% as a result of the announcements made earlier in the week on changes to its workforce."

Until this week, talks had been stalled because of RUPA's request for Rugby Australia to hand over their full financial picture, something the national body is not necessarily obliged to do.

Castle said as recently as Wednesday that the players had sufficient information to find a position in their negotiations, after the organisation's staff changes and information that was provided at the annual general meeting, where Rugby AU reported a provisional $9.4 million loss.

Saturday's statement from RUPA said they "welcomed" the delivery of the information and looking at other sports' negotiations, expected a final agreement to still be weeks away.

Both the NRL and AFL players have agreed to significant pay cuts in recent weeks after talks with their respective governing bodies.

"The Rugby Union Players Association welcomes the receipt at 0804 this morning of the financial information first requested from Rugby Australia almost a month ago," the statement read.

"Given neither party has yet tabled any position relating to player salaries in the context of the Covid-19 crisis we need to be realistic as to the problems to be solved and the time necessary to deal with complex issues and have proper consultation with players."

"If other major codes are a guide a week or weeks is not an unrealistic timeframe to reach a solution.

"RUPA has at all times been ready to enter proper negotiations as soon as transparent financial information was provided. We now look forward to a meaningful discussion.

"The players are keenly aware of the role they need to play in leading the code to a sustainable future.

"RUPA again emphasises our desire for open and transparent discussions conducted in good faith. We are looking forward to advancing these discussions in a rapid timeframe to develop a whole of game solution." 

Saturday's development comes after Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean put his support behind Castle absolutely, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday.

"We had a board discussion prior to Christmas and we indicated to her then she had 100 per cent board support and the board has not been back to talk about Raelene's position since," McLean said.

"We are quite legitimately spending all our time looking at the business. I can guarantee that the focus of our daily board meetings is 100 per cent on cash flow and cash flow alone. That's the position we're in.

"Raelene has our absolute support.

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Rugby Australia's board welcomed three new directors in Virgin Blue founder Brett Godfrey, Supercars chairman Peter Wiggs and ex-Wallaby Daniel Herbert at its annual general meeting last week and McLean said their 

"There's always things happening on the edges in rugby and nefarious forces at play," he said.

"The three new directors have had their shoulder to the wheel on our cash flow problems and the implications of that. None of the three of them have raised anything to do with Raelene."

A host of former Wallabies have criticised Rugby Australia this week amid the player negotiations 

This article doesn't necessarily represent the views of Rugby Australia or its affiliated state and member unions.