Rugby AU looking to "protect" Wallabies program, hoping for Rugby Championship bubble

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by Beth Newman

Rugby Australia interim CEO Rob Clarke says the business will protect its Wallabies program as much as it can amid drastic cost-cutting in the business.

Rugby AU made 47 of its 142 full-time staff redundant on Monday, as well as 30 casual and contract workers, and will ask senior staff to take a five per cent pay cut when they return.

With 75 per cent of its employees currently stood down on JobKeeper, the organisation's remaining 95 employees will be gradually returning to work until October.

Clarke did not expand on which departments were hit the hardest, saying only that every area was reviewed through the process in a bid to hone in on the organisation's priorities.

"I think it just comes back to prioritising the most important functions in our business and I think the staff base we will have going forward will still enable us to focus on the priority areas of delivering what we do as a national body and supporting our member unions where we need to support them but there will be trade offs, there's no doubt," he said.

"We will have to look at programs and certain initiatives that we might want to have implemented that maybe we can't for now. But that doesn't mean that next year might be different and we'll be able to invest back in the game as we need to when we can."

Asked how cuts would impact the Wallabies plans, Clarke said everything would be done to try and "protect" that program.

"We need to try and protect as much of our high performance area as possible, as that's going to help get the Wallabies back to where they need to get to as a world ranking and so (incoming Wallabies coach) Dave Rennie is a key part of that and I'm delighted with how Dave's been engaging on that task since signing up and I think he's going to make a really big, positive difference," he said.

"It's a key part of our financial underpinning is a successful Wallabies. It's not everything but it's certainly a key part. So we'll be protecting that as much as possible."

Clarke also said Australia's Sevens and Wallaroos programs would be considered high priorities for the organisation moving forward.

Clarke confirmed there were plans in place for a four-Test Bledisloe Cup series later this year, hoping for two Tests in Australia and two Tests in New Zealand.

He also expressed hopes that Australia could host the Rugby Championship in a guarantine bubble later this year.

"We're working with our SANZAAR partners around what the TRC looks like and it is condensed," he said.

"That said, everybody is committed to trying to play a full TRC and we're exploring with the Australian government whether that can be hubbed here in Australia and we fly in all of the SANZAAR partners and they are in a training bubble and then we can quarantine effectively and we can play a competition.

"There will be an extended Bledisloe Cup and we're well advanced with our discussions with our New Zealand colleagues on that."

Wallabies coach Rennie is set to arrive in Australia in early July after undergoing quarantine in New Zealand.

The former Glasgow coach will not be among senior staff asked to take a five per cent salary cut, with his official start date not until July.

“All other staff over a certain threshold will be invited to take a five per cent pay cut," Clarke said.

"It’s a legal requirement and so we’ll be following the law there. I’m confident that the staff coming back will want to help to continue to play their part in the financial sustainability of the game.

“We don’t anticipate a full workforce coming back until October.”

The annual NRC will be a casualty of the schedule this year, with Clarke confirming the domestic competition will not be played in 2020.

Its future was already under question with a new broadcast deal up for negotiation for 2021 and beyond.

The next step for Rugby Australia will be consulting with state and member unions about their own restructures and ways of avoiding "duplication".