Rugby Australia interim CEO Rob Clarke establishes priorities

Rugby Australia [RA] interim CEO Rob Clarke has hit the ground running in his new role, immediately establishing two priorities at the top of the agenda: returning to play and clarifying RA's financial position.

Announced to take over the interim role on Wednesday evening, Clarke met with board members through Zoom on Thursday, while a number of meetings with member unions and RUPA president Justin Harrison are also organized for coming days.

"There's a lot to be done," Clarke told media at a press conference. "The game has gone through a very, very challenging period and the first item on the agenda is to get ourselves playing around the country again.

"I'm delighted with the plans that have been put into place with the team here, we're well positioned for when the restrictions are lifted and will enable us to get rugby played at both a community level and a professional level as soon as we possibly can."

A domestic competition has been discussed within the member unions, with Clarke clarifying July would be the earliest start date for any professional competition, while the community level continues to depend on the lifting of restrictions.

"Professional level our plans have been submitted to the government," he said.

"Assuming that restrictions are lifted as we hope in the next week or so, we would aim to be playing in possibly July with training starting in June, but of course it's all tied to restrictions.

"The government has our proposal and I hope they view it favorably and that will give us a rough time frame.

"On the community game, again, we've submitted our proposal, our plans, as per the AIS's outlines and that's comprehensive as a phased approach depending on state restrictions at the time. But again, it will be ready to go as soon as restrictions are lifted."

In March former CEO Raelene Castle announced RA posted a provisional $9.4 million loss in 2019, while it was forecast RA could lose up to $120 million if the professional game did not return in 2020.

Clarke did not go into the details of RA's financial hole, but was confident World Rugby's reported bailout would come through soon.

"That is something that is absolute priority, clearly the game is not in healthy financial shape, we know that, the exact details I'll get across in coming days.

"I'm confident that World Rugby money is secure and that will be approved imminently and that goes a long way to relieving some immediate financial pressures. But I need a little bit more time to get under the numbers and understanding where we're at."

With the 2019 financial report yet to be signed off by KPMG, Clarke was quick to clarify they had not missed any deadlines.

"I want to clarify one thing, KPMG don't need to sign off on our accounts until the 31st of May, the government moved that deadline for all businesses such as ours, so we haven't actually missed a deadline on that and I'm very confident we'll submit our accounts appropriately to KPMG for sign-off well before the 31st of May."

On Thursday the New Zealand government gave New Zealand Rugby [NZR] the green light for professional rugby to return once the nation eased into level two COVID-19 restrictions. While RA will have to wait on the lifting of travel restrictions between the countries, the potential for a trans-Tasman competition remains on the table.

"The international dimensions depend on travel restrictions which of course we don't know, we're hoping that New Zealand opens up sooner than later, which gives us a great opportunity to look at what future competition structures may exist with New Zealand. But we wait for the government's response on traveling bans.

"It's a bit of a moving feast, we just keep close to those government decisions and act accordingly."