Raelene Castle coup complete, rugby's 'leaders' must deliver the goods

Raelene Castle's decision to resign as Rugby Australia chief executive is in no way surprising but it doesn't make the civil war that has engulfed the game in recent months any less disappointing.

On one side it is the timely removal of a leader who gambled on the game's future with a risky broadcast play; a business executive who bungled the handling of the Wallabies' biggest star, Israel Folau -- from his re-signing to the fallout from his homophobic social media posts -- and has overseen the game's deterioration to the point of complete financial collapse.

Conversely it is the opportunistic knifing of an individual during a global pandemic whose presence never sat well with the game's establishment.

And that establishment really mobilised over the last couple of weeks, with not one but two letters sent to head office calling for a change of leadership.

It's up to you on which side of the ledger you sit.

But there is no doubting the fact the walls closed in on Castle when Australian rugby's current professional cohort began to align with those moving in the shadows; the process to negotiate a wage cut with the Rugby Union Players Association took far too long and proved the straw that broke that board's back.

There was no way back for Castle when current RUPA President Damien Fitzpatrick endorsed the first of the Wallabies captains' letters some 24 hours after it had been presented. Castle did the right thing in exiting after she was told she no longer had the support of the board on Thursday afternoon.

But the same intense scrutiny she has been subjected to must immediately be placed on the 10 Wallabies captains - Michael Lynagh asked for his name to be removed from the original list of 11 - who effectively stormed RA HQ twice and demanded change. They will play a role in installing Castle's replacement, even if it is the board's decision. Of that you can be certain.

The broadcast deal, for which negotiations were halted due to the coronavirus, will be the first point of call. ESPN understands the interest from Optus is, as Castle has said, genuine. The telco's content team is keen on adding rugby to their English Premier League football slate but there are concerns about the cost, particularly higher up the chain.

But anything other than a deal being struck with existing broadcasters Fox Sports, either at their original offer of $30m a season, or at a reduced figure, will come as a complete surprise.

Those on the board will be desperate to take whatever revenue they can due to the game's ugly balance sheet - Rugby Australia announced a $9.4m loss for 2019 -- and then there are the obvious ties to Fox Sports of those who signed the captains' letter: Phil Kearns and George Gregan.

But just what will this group achieve after a broadcast deal is done? How will they reconnect with the grassroots, the subbies, junior and country clubs, for whom they claim to be so passionate about?

When ESPN spoke to a series of clubs for a story on grassroots rugby at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the support for Castle and her handling of some tricky situations was unanimous. There was a renewed feeling of hope, they said.

How will the board, the new chief executive and these Wallabies greats change the game's image and arrest its slide from the point of complete obscurity in Australia?

What will they do with the SANZAAR alliance? What is its plan for Super Rugby or a domestic Australian competition? How will they convince New Zealand to join a trans-Tasman provincial comp?

At the moment, solutions to those problems have been all too few and far between. The current playing group, too, appears short on ideas.

How will the financial windfall from the 2025 British & Irish Lions series be used? Australia appears to be in the box seat to host Rugby World Cup 2027, which would be a repeat of the situation from 2001 [Lions] and 2003 [World Cup] that should have set the game up for years to come, but was, somehow, squandered? How will those millions be used this time around?

Whoever lands, or is inserted, into the top job must be held to account as the decision to issue a vote of no-confidence in a chief executive in the middle of global pandemic, the greatest challenge the world has faced since 1945, is one helluva move.

And those pulling the strings in the background must have one helluva magic wand, because the problems that haunt the game - the Folau saga and broadcast breakdown aside -- existed long before Raelene Castle ever came along.

And the establishment has had just as long to fix them previously, too.