Kearns rules out tilt at Rugby AU CEO job, prepares to lead World Cup bid

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Former Wallaby Phil Kearns has all but ruled out another tilt at Rugby Australia's top job after being appointed to lead the organisation's 2027 World Cup bid.

Kearns was on Wednesday announced as executive director of Rugby Australia's World Cup bid advisory board, effectively leading the bid for the 2027 World Cup.

The two-time World Cup winner has been in the mix for the Rugby AU CEO role before, finishing second to Raelene Castle in 2017, and there has been speculation he has aspired to that role in the future.

Asked what this new appointment meant for his aspirations, Kearns was frank.

"I think this will put paid to that aspiration," he said.

"I think there's a couple of really big roles in Australian rugby at the moment, this is certainly one of them.

"I guess one of the things that swayed me is just the importance of this in terms of the future financial health of our game.

"If you look at the numbers the last few World Cups, in Japan generated 7.5 million worth of economic value for Japan and when we'll be coming out of doubts and COVID, this could be a very critical boost to our economy right around the country. So, I think that's important from that perspective but also from a junior rugby perspective I think it's critical to have our  game underpinned with a great financial future.

"That was really the critical piece to me, the importance of it."

Current interim CEO Rob Clarke is set to finish in his role in December and the search is underway for a long-term replacement,

Kearns said he hoped the next CEO would be someone "steeped in rugby" and preferably Australian.

"A person that is steeped in rugby," he said.

"It doesn't need to be a Wallaby by any stretch of the imagination, but it needs to be someone that has played the game for a long time that knows - we all know, you write about it every day, the politics involved in he game so you need to know who the parties are and how to get things done.

"You need someone who can connect with the grassroots and with the volunteers and junior administrators and subbies administrators and the club administrators around the country.

"It's those places that keep our game alive and to have someone that can engage with those people is really important. So, someone that's steeped in rugby, I think is the critical part of it. Preferably, an Australian, we've all talked about how we've had some kiwis in the past but it'd be great to have an Australian in there and great to have someone steeped in that rugby background.

Kearns was among a group of 10 Wallabies captains agitating for leadership change earlier this year, meeting with then chairman Paul McLean about their gripes.

The period of turmoil that Rugby Australia underwent in the early part of 2020 ultimately culminated in Castle's resignation in April.

Rugby's politics have always been a tricky beast to manoeuvre but Kearns said he had confidence there was more unity in the game moving forward.

"I think everyone put the game's interests first, that's certainly what the captains tried to do and it's certainly what the public wants to see," he said.

"The way you develop trust in an organisation is delivering on what you say you're going to do and Hamish (chairman Hamish McLennan) and Rugby Australia over the past six or eight weeks have talked about is giving back to the grassroots and the grassroots will support you if you deliver to them.

"The indication is that it's heading that way and that's why there's a sense of confidence there and it's always what the captains of the Wallabies want, to act in the best interests of the game and we've said that to Hamish and he's got our 100 per cent support."

After retiring from rugby, Kearns has worked in the corporate world and said he felt he could bring expertise to this newly-created role.

"Over the least eight years, I've run two different organisations - one in the insurance world and one in the fin planning world. Before  that I was in the investment banking world and started a business unit within Investec bank, a great sponsor of the game around the world," he said.

"So, the key to the success of those roles has been around building a team and getting a team working together so to be able to build a World Cup team in Australian rugby and also combine the knowledge of that board, I think that's a really important skill in trying to get this done.

"The other thing I hopefully bring is a wide array of contacts that can help us along that journey."

Australia is currently the front runner to host the 2027 World Cup but no other nations have officially announced plans to bid aside from Russia.

The USA has also been considered a contender while Kearns also said on Wednesday that the UK could be contemplating a bid as well.

While World Rugby has not formally announced an amended timeline for the bid process, it is expected the formal applications will open in February 2021 and the host will be announced in May 2022.