The Wrap: Rugby Australia gaslights Rebels staff and why ‘I Can’t Go For That’


It was a difficult weekend for Hall and Oates fans, with news coming through of the duo’s official split. Never mind that their last top-ten single was way back in 1988, or that it feels a lot like discovering your grandparents no longer sleep together. For fans and hairdressers around the globe, it’s now ‘out of touch, out of time’.

With the Hurricanes coming off a loss and returning to Wellington, it always felt like the Waratahs were onto a hiding to nothing in the Friday’s opening match. Well, not quite nothing; the visitors posting two second-half tries to at least come away with some reward from the 41-12 result.

The Hurricanes were slick and powerful early, in what was a nice tune-up for their mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash next weekend in Auckland.

The Blues got plenty out of their match as well, under the pump in the first half in the face of a committed and tactically astute Rebels side, energetically led by the twin-Josh threat of Canham and Kemeny.

Power and class told in the end, the score blowing out late to 38-11 as the Blues took the short route, clinically converting the same red zone opportunities that the Rebels weren’t quite able to nail.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

A nod of appreciation is due referee Angus Gardner, who kindly allowed the crowd to enjoy a mid-match toilet and beer break, while he afforded Blues hooker Ricky Riccitelli an age to change his boots.

And how good was it to see Cameron Suafoa return to action, having spent a big chunk of this season undergoing radiation therapy for cancer?

Saturday delivered a sodden surface in Nuku’alofa, where the Highlanders brought the right game plan for the conditions, helping them to a solid 28-17 win against Moana Pasifika.

In what was their best display for several weeks, the only disappointment was that Rhys Patchell didn’t travel, depriving fans of the opportunity to see the Welshman perform the team’s special haka, before the match.

There are significant logistical and financial challenges around hosting matches in the Pacific Islands, but it was terrific to see such an animated crowd, despite the rain. Hopefully next time their side isn’t quite so overawed by the occasion.

The match of the round saw the Reds take their opportunities in the first-half, and muscle up in defence late, to score a rare, and very well-deserved win in Christchurch, 33-28 against the Crusaders.

Those early highlights included a wonderful team try to Tim Ryan who, after a stellar three-try debut last week against the Blues, slumped to a disappointing two-try tally this week.

The key play came when the Crusaders – who had the best of the middle two quarters – had clawed their way back to 21-21. David Havili was making a fair fist of flyhalf, but he got himself into an awkward position for a clearing kick, and Harry Wilson’s hustle to charge-down, regather and score, was typical of the Reds’ tenacity throughout.

Hampered by the early loss of Scott Barrett, the Crusaders are still lurking within striking distance of a finals spot, but they are making things tough for themselves. It goes without saying that they must overcome the Highlanders next weekend.

In Hamilton, the Force started poorly and thereafter were never in the contest; the Chiefs coasting to a 56-7 win. It wouldn’t be a Chiefs match without something for the Damian McKenzie showreel; this time making like a MLB outfielder, sliding to prevent a 50:22 and claiming a superb fair catch.

Keep an eye out too, for Chiefs replacement hooker Tyrone Thompson, whose final-quarter cameo was full of explosive power, pace and skill. Already a NZ Maori and New Zealand XV representative, at 23 years old, Thompson has the right physique and skillset to take his game further.

After a clean, swift 14-0 start, the Brumbies struggled to contain a Drua side that grew in confidence as they settled into the match, off the back of a powerful scrum.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Recovering to 21-17 a Drua win was a distinct possibility, but the injection of Luke Reimer proved decisive. Reimer – who most definitely doesn’t share the same hair stylist as John Oates – was in everything, snuffing out a couple of dangerous attacks then crashing over for the final try of the match.

The Drua sit in eighth place with what are some winnable matches in front of them, but next week’s match in Perth feels pivotal.

In off-field news, Friday saw a Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) proposed by the Melbourne Rebels directors, passed by a meeting of creditors. The saga now moves into a negotiation phase which covers two substantive matters: the extent to which the ATO might be prepared to forgive a debt or partial debt, and whether or not Rugby Australia is prepared to make available the Super Rugby licence for the Rebels, to the new consortium.

On the first point, an ATO representative explained to the meeting, legal reasons for their voting against the DOCA. That action does not prevent them from negotiating with the directors outside of the deed, just as it is normal practice for the ATO to make arrangements with businesses and individuals as it sees fit.

While many ‘at home’ observers have pronounced the Rebels’ directors guilty of insolvent trading, and insist that they know the ATO’s position, more prudent observers await with interest to see what will actually transpire.

With respect to Rugby Australia and the licence, multiple sources in New Zealand confirm that the two national unions have agreed to move to an 11-team Super Rugby competition for 2025.

Showing their hand on Friday, Rugby Australia voted against the DOCA. Every indicator suggests that Rugby Australia is intent on forcing the liquidation of the Rebels, via withholding the licence.

(Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Suggestions that Rugby Australia’s vote against the DOCA was forced by the certainty of legal action being mounted against them are a misread. Whether this matter goes to court or not hinges on two things happening: the continuation of the Rebels under a new consortium, and Rugby Australia acknowledging responsibility for a portion of the debt, with respect to undertakings that were made.

Should Rugby Australia return to the negotiating table over the next two to three weeks, there remains the possibility of these matters being resolved and the Rebels continuing without anyone going to court.

This is a very difficult issue for Rugby Australia to deal with; the pressure evident when the day before the creditor’s vote, a letter was sent to PwC Australia, alleging that the administrator’s report was biased in favour of the directors.

Note the language used since, to highlight how the administrator was appointed by the Rebels’ directors. Technically perhaps; in truth, the directors proposed a different firm but this was rejected by Rugby Australia, who insisted upon them appointing PwC.

As everyone in rugby knows, moaning about the referee’s decision is never a good look; more so when it’s a referee of your own choosing.

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If Rugby Australia are hellbent on downsizing Australia’s professional footprint and cutting the Rebels from Super Rugby, their position – and the understanding of every observer – would be enhanced by transparency around the net saving achieved by cutting the Rebels versus the net cost of cutting them.

In all of the talk about administration processes and potential litigation, what is too easily forgotten is the human element. Post-match on Friday night, Rebels coach Kevin Foote spoke about the severe stress placed on staff and players – many of whom have young families and whose livelihoods and careers are at stake – throughout this year.

Foote also referenced a Zoom meeting ten days ago, where Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh told staff he was happy for them that the DOCA as recommended by the administrator would allow them to receive 100 per cent of their entitlements.

Nice words, but what about actions? Those same staff now have to come to terms with Waugh voting against the DOCA; an action designed to prevent them from being paid those entitlements.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

To repeat, this is a difficult situation for Rugby Australia to navigate. But there can be no justification for gaslighting emotionally wrought staff, who are guilty of nothing but making a genuine contribution to Australian rugby in their respective roles.

It speaks volumes for the calibre and resilience of the staff and players that they have been able to function as well as they have, without the support of a CEO or a board, and a parent body who won’t level with them.

Out of fairness and respect for these people, it is past time for Rugby Australia to negotiate with the new consortium and keep the Rebels for 2025 and beyond, or else be done with it and confirm that the franchise will be cut, and face whatever consequences come with that decision.

Either way, everyone involved must be allowed to move on.

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