Leaked document says RA out to ‘destroy Super Rugby’ and ‘turn members against each other’ as Rebels’ pain comes to light
The Melbourne Rebels have accused Rugby Australia of seeking to “destroy” the current Super Rugby Pacific structure by deliberately underfunding its member unions and lambasted the national union for their unrestricted World Cup budget blowout.
A leaked document, written by the Melbourne Rebels Board and Rugby Victoria, also reveals that seven months before the Rebels went into voluntary administration, RA demanded the Melbourne-based side be known as the Rebels Pasifika.
The Roar understands that RA chief executive Phil Waugh was the brainchild of the Melbourne-based franchise joining forces with Moana Pasifika, who are owned by New Zealand Rugby and propped up by World Rugby but have struggled on and off the field since entering the competition in 2021.
At the same time, a club based on the United States west coast or Hawaii, and possibly representation from Japan, was being considered as a way to maintain the 12-team competition. It was also thought World Rugby would look favourably on a side being included from the United States given the country will host the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033.
Given the Rebels’ strong Polynesian influence, the idea was considered to have some merit.
Yet, the idea, which has been known for months, barely got off the ground with several sources surprised it went cold.
“As at 18 July 2023 RA was requiring Melbourne team to be known as Rebels Pasifika in its dealing with Rebels, Victorian Government, the British and Irish Lions Tours to Australia in 2025,” the document reads.
The 16-page document, which comes at a tense time for the franchise after falling into voluntary administration late last month after weeks of ugly headlines relating to their dire financials, slams RA for sending the club off a cliff.
It goes on to say that RA had failed in its leadership and the governing body was acting in an “unconscionable” manner towards Australia’s five Super Rugby franchises.
“RA treatment of Super Rugby and state members is so unreasonable as to be unconstitutional and unconscionable as it had been determined to destroy the current structure by under-funding SRL (Super Rugby licensee) members,” the document states.
At the heart of the document is RA reneging on their $1.7 million hand out to each of the Super Rugby franchises since the Covid pandemic brought the game to its knees.
While the franchises accepted the governing body needed to keep the funds in the 12-24 months following the Covid crisis, the Rebels hit out at RA for keeping the precious funds over the past two years, especially in light of former chairman Hamish McLennan’s ability to negotiate additional funding from the NZR.
Under the title ‘Issues’, the Rebels also questioned why RA was prepared to control the Waratahs given their financial issues and called on all “records” and the “Minutes of the Board of Directors and associated papers relating to all matters relating to SRPC and any Super Rugby Licensees including the Waratahs”.
Another section headed ‘undisputed facts and propositions’ says the governing body has “sought to turn its Member Unions against each other”.
The document also slammed RA’s decision not to publicise their report into last year’s World Cup disaster, which is thought to have gone over $5m in budget.
The report, which several sources deemed would be a waste of time and money, was overseen by former Wallabies captain Andrew Slack. Rugby Union Players’ Association boss Justin Harrison, as well as high performance specialist Darelene Harrison, were also on the panel.
It’s believed RA was presented the report weeks ago, but want to show it to incoming high performance director Peter Horne, who officially starts next month, before releasing some findings to the public.
The RA board is made up of Phil Waugh, Daniel Herbert, Pip Marlow, Brett Godfrey, Dr Jane Wilson, Matthew Hanning, Karen Penrose and president Joe Roff, who does not get a vote.
The board is coming under renewed pressure to stand up to be counted or stand down, with many believing nothing has changed since McLennan was ousted as chairman.
In fact, with McLennan’s broadcast expertise missing from the board, it’s understood RA is privately concerned about their looming broadcast negotiations.
There are fears that if RA doesn’t receive a significantly improved offer on the $29m it currently receives from Nine Entertainment, the game will continue to go backward at a rate of knots.
The document was leaked to News Corp in the hours after more than 30 people attended a 25-minute creditors meeting held online on Thursday morning.
The meeting was told the Australian Taxation Office was owed $11.6m in unpaid tax, with debts incurred over five years.
Loans from creditors, including board members, were $5.7m.
The Victorian Government, which has offered the Rebels one month’s free rent on AAMI Park, was owed almost $2m.
The Herald Sun reports that creditors were told that RA was likely to be liable for up to $8m of the Rebels debt.
Rebels sources say they will play out of AAMI Park for the year, with tickets set to go on sale in the coming days.
Although Waugh has previously stated he was hoping for a quick resolution to the Rebels’ future, sources fear that should the decision be made to close the doors on the franchise beyond 2024, the saga could drag out for months with lawyers likely to get involved.
Australian rugby was put through the ringer in 2017 when the decision was made by the then Australian Rugby Union to cull one of its five franchises.
Despite then chairman Cameron Clyne saying he hoped they would have a decision on who to keep between the Rebels and Western Force within “48-72 hours”, it took the governing body four months to settle on keeping the Melbourne-based side.
The Force, who took the decision to the Supreme Court, eventually returned to Super Rugby in 2020 after RA reached out to them to re-join an Australian only tournament following the onset of Covid-19.