‘Simply unacceptable’: RA chief fires back after consortium’s leaked claim of ‘abusive’ behavior


Rugby Australia has strongly rejected claims that an RA board member treated members of the private consortium aiming to salvage the Melbourne Rebels with “contempt”.

Georgia Widdup, spokeswoman for the consortium headed by her father Leigh Clifford, wrote an email to RA chairman Daniel Herbert on Thursday, complaining about the behaviour of director Matt Hanning in meetings early this week that proceeded the RA decision to reject the consortium’s plan.

Herbert and CEO Phil Waugh met with Rebels players and staff on Thursday to tell them the franchise would not be playing in Super Rugby in 2025.

The pair said the plan to save the Rebels by the private consortium was rejected “based on a lack of detail and transparency.”

Rugby Australia Chair Daniel Herbert. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

Clifford immediately announced the consortium would be taking legal action next week.

Herbert’s response to Widdup’s email was strong and direct – dismissing her version of the meeting and concluding “no reasonable national sporting organisation or sports governing body would award a licence to individuals who engage in such behaviour.”

Widdup’s email was leaked to multiple media outlets on Friday.

In the email Widdup wrote:

“As you will be aware, I, together with Leigh Clifford and representatives from KordaMentha, made a presentation to representatives of Rugby Australia Limited yesterday evening [Wednesday]. This presentation was arranged urgently at the request of Rugby Australia.  

“Present were a number of representatives of Rugby Australia, including Phil Waugh and Matt Hanning. Obviously, both of these people are Directors of Rugby Australia.

“I am writing to express my concern about the conduct of some of the Rugby Australia representatives during the presentation, in particular, the conduct of Matt Hanning.

“Mr Hanning was, throughout the presentation, belligerent, argumentative and abusive. He frequently interrupted the presenters and made adverse comments about the presentation and the participants.

“The members of the consortium have invested significant time and resources to provide Rugby Australia with a pathway to maintain a viable presence for rugby union in Victoria. This may not suit Rugby Australia’s short or long term goals (which I note have never been articulated to us), but the efforts are genuine and did not deserve to be dismissed in the manner that they were and with the contempt that was shown to all of us.”

Widdup added she believed the conduct was in breach of RA’s Code of Conduct and asked RA chairman Daniel Herbert to “counsel” Hanning.

“In my view, the conduct of some of the representatives, including Mr Hanning, were in clear breach of the Code. I am drawing this to your attention as Chair of the Rugby Australia Board as a matter of courtesy, and I expect that you will, given your position, take action to counsel Mr Hanning and others so that this behaviour is not repeated.”

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and Rugby Australia Chair Daniel Herbert. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

Herbert rejected Widdup’s claims outright and denied any of Rugby Australia’s representatives had acted improperly.

“After discussing the matter with our representatives at the presentation, I am satisfied that the Rugby Australia Code of Conduct has not been breached,” he told her in reply.

“From my understanding, whilst our representatives may have posed some tough or uncomfortable questions, they were put in a firm but respectful way. 

“It was the view of our representatives that the answers provided to those questions were not responsive nor adequate and given the number of comments made by or on behalf the Consortia to the media about the advanced state of the proposal, the answers were therefore wholly unsatisfactory. 

“I also understand that issues about your personal position and that of a potential conflict were also raised. 

“Again, this may have caused you some discomfort but that was not the intention of our representatives. 

“However, we were entitled to know what role you have played to date and will play going forward given that you are also one of the directors of Melbourne Rebels Rugby Union Pty Limited (MRRU) who has not only threatened to sue Rugby Australia and its directors but has been found by the Administrator to have traded MRRU whilst insolvent for the duration of your tenure as director.

“We are also entitled to know who else you proposed to be involved going forward.

“I understand from our representatives at the presentation that both you and Leigh declined to divulge this information and were not prepared to so until such time as Rugby Australia had agreed key terms to move forward with the Consortium. This is simply unacceptable. 

“As to the other allegations in your correspondence, they are not clearly articulated in order for me to provide a proper response. However, I note the objective of your communication was to bring the alleged conduct of our representatives at last night’s meeting to my attention. 

“Thank you for doing so, however, I am not satisfied that any representative needs to be counselled or spoken to about their conduct. 

“Finally, I would like to put you on notice of clause 4.1(y) of the Rugby Australia Code of Conduct which requires those bound by Code (which includes you and your fellow directors) to “not facilitate, aid, abet or be complicit in Prohibited Conduct or act in any other manner that is or may be prejudicial to the interests of any Relevant Organisation [which includes Rugby Australia and Melbourne Rebels Rugby Union Pty Ltd) or the game or otherwise brings or may bring the game into disrepute”. 

“Your actions, including threats of legal action and public disparagement, are prejudicial to the interests of Rugby Australia and the game as a whole.

“While we understand your desire to protect your family’s personal interests, it is important to recognise that such conduct undermines Rugby Australia’s core value of integrity and brings the sport into disrepute. No reasonable national sporting organisation or sports governing body would award a licence to individuals who engage in such behaviour.”

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