Answering the key questions after McLennan's exit from Rugby Australia

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The explosive tenure of Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan is officially over.

After a weekend of board meetings, McLennan finally resigned amid the no-confidence motion brought about by six state unions, headlined by ACT and Queensland.

Read on as we answer some of the key questions of his three-year tenure and what lies ahead for Rugby Australia without him.

Was McLennan's position untenable?

The RA chairman's position was always going to be tied to the fate of Eddie Jones, having been the chief cheer leader - something that McLennan has since backtracked from - behind his recruitment and appointment at the start of the year. Even when the Wallabies began Jones' tenure with four straight losses, McLennan declared Jones would be the coach "no matter what," such fervent support to his captain's pick - again a description he denies - was always going to leave him vulnerable. Allegations that Jones had met with the Japanese Rugby Football Union on the eve of the World Cup only further put McLennan's position in the spotlight, with Australia's pool stage exit and later Jones' negotiated departure leaving the chairman on wafer thin ice. Australian rugby stakeholders felt betrayed by Jones, and saw one figure responsible for the utter catastrophe that was the Wallabies in 2023: McLennan.

McLennan's autocratic leadership style and propensity for headlines caused fractions across the game, as referenced in the statement issued by the six dissenting unions on Friday, while his verbal stoushes with rugby league supremo Peter V'Landys at times felt unnecessary.

McLennan is however right in saying he had the support of the NSW Rugby Union, Victorian Rugby Union and Western Force owner Andrew Forrest, while the question as to whether the South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory unions deserve a full vote as part of the constitution is a valid one.

Aside from his own vote, McLennan was unanimously voted out as chairman on Sunday, with Daniel Herbert selected by his fellow board members to take over. Herbert explained the timeline of events of McLennan's exit when speaking to the media via Zoom on Monday afternoon.

"Obviously we received a letter. We requisitioned the board. We had several meetings over the weekend because there was a lot of information to absorb. There was a lot of circumstances and outcomes that we had to look ahead to and outcomes and possibilities.

"Then also a number of stakeholders and ultimately this did not speak to all of them, it spoke to some. We had to consider all of those outcomes. It went right through to when we put out the release last night. It was several meetings.

"We deliberated that over the whole weekend. A lot of admiration and respect for Hamish and what he's done stepping into this seat when probably not many people would have done it. He led us through COVID and has been fundamental about the changes required and that's not going to change with me and the directors, we are steadfast on that.

"We feel that moving forward the game requires everyone to unite. We felt that would only be achieved with a change of chair."

How much did the Wallabies' World Cup horror show contribute to his exit?

As mentioned above, McLennan was intrinsically linked with Jones, so when the Wallabies flopped in France, the knives were always going to be out for the chairman. The fact that Australia managed victories only over Georgia and Portugal in 2023, and even had periods of genuine distress in those two games, to bomb out of the World Cup was nothing short of a disgrace. Sure, a Dave Rennie-coached side was unlikely to win the Webb Ellis Cup, but they had shown enough to suggest that the quarterfinals were at least attainable.

Stakeholders then also didn't like the fact McLennan tried to shift the blame for the Wallabies' failings onto "the system," that 20 years of rugby decline was responsible for Australia's dire showing in France. Former Wallabies captain Stephen Moore described it as "shifting the narrative", and it definitely felt as if McLennan was trying to pass the buck.

What kind of chairman will Daniel Herbert be?

Herbert on Monday afternoon confirmed he had been anointed chair on a permanent basis, contrary to the statement released on Sunday night. From the outset, he is expected to let chief executive Phil Waugh become the central mouthpiece for RA, as he should. Herbert's ascension to interim chairman will meanwhile be welcomed in Queensland, where he is one of the Reds' favourite sons, and someone who has served as QRU general manager at Ballymore.

One prominent former Wallaby thought Herbert could be a good fit for the high performance role RA is currently trying to fill, but his previous experience as part of the governing body's "rugby committee" and ongoing work in that capacity should at least ensure that the best available person for that position is appointed sooner rather than later.

And Herbert is a completely different personality to McLennan. After a couple of years of relentless confrontation, agitation and disruption -- which did admittedly help deliver several key outcomes for Australian rugby -- a more measured, yet competent, chairman who has the support of stakeholders across the country appears to be a step in the right direction.

Can RA still achieve its centralisation goal?

From RA's announcement of the "strategic reset" of the game in August, the road to centralisation was always going to prove a challenging one. That was evident in the various degrees of support that each of the five Super franchises offered in that same media release. It had the feeling of a half-baked agreement at the time, and that is exactly how it has panned out.

The ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds have repeatedly voiced their concerns over RA's plan, or at least that they will not be committing to it in its entirety, as rivals the NSW Waratahs largely have. However, the Monday morning statement issued by the six state unions, who on Friday night had demanded McLennan's resignation, offers RA some hope that McLennan's exit may actually result in some form of alignment across high performance, and strength and conditioning.

Despite resistance on the commercial side of the game and how it could fall into centralisation, Herbert said he was confident the "strategic reset" of the game could still in part be completed.

"Well both [the Brumbies and Reds] in writing have supported the alignment of high performance," Herbert told reporters on Monday afternoon. "I'm not aware - I know that different people have a different view of what it looks like - but everyone acknowledges that we have to align, we have to integrate, we have to unite.

"So everyone is agreeing that that has to happen, some people might have a slightly different view of that, but we can only do that when we all get in a room, because I remember when I worked in rugby that this has been put on the table. This has been put on the table a few times and, at the time, various people and various member unions had appetite and others didn't. I think now we've got enough history to see that it does work.

"Now it doesn't have to be a cut-and-paste of anyone else's, it can be our own version. But the principles are the same, we actually have to work in an integrated system, we can't work in competition with each other, which is how rugby has been run, or how professional rugby has been run. So if we can integrate, then we give ourselves a chance."

Will McLennan's exit jeopardise the next round of broadcast negotiations?

RA will open discussions about its next broadcast deal, that will run from 2026-2030, which will be the most attractive rights period for the game since the start of the millennium. While the rights to the 2027 World Cup in Australia won't be part of the package, the interest in the game in the run to that tournament should, in theory, help to drive broadcast competition, alongside the historic British & Irish Lions series.

Having built its Stan Sport platform off the back of rugby and secured the rights in what many industry insiders thought was a steal in the process, Nine Entertainment Group may well be loathed to let it slide; though to generate a far juicier deal than the original $100m over three years - Nine then took up its two-year option - there will need to be some competitive tension, with News Corporation's Foxtel the most likely bidder.

There is no doubt that McLennan's connections in the business world were a valuable tool for RA, particularly when it was at near oblivion early in 2020, but the media heavyweight also has his fair share of detractors in the corporate world. While losing his expertise in media negotiations isn't ideal, RA could hire an industry specialist on a short-term consultancy basis to help yield the best broadcast deal possible.

Speaking on Monday afternoon, Herbert said chief executive Phil Waugh had already been canvassing the broadcast market.

"Already in the short time, Phil has been very active with the broadcasters," Herbert said.

"If we need more capability, we'll bring it in. We're not at that point and we haven't had that discussion. But if we need to, we will.

"Phil has been very central to particularly the Stan [Sport] conversations and that's all been reported through to the board at various stages."

How will McLennan's departure be received in New Zealand?

They won't make it public, but those in the boardrooms of New Zealand Rugby will likely be jumping for joy. McLennan had gone head-to-head with NZR on multiple occasions, most notably their Bledisloe withdrawal in 2021, and then his quest to carve out a greater share of the broadcast pie from Super Rugby Pacific.

In threatening to walk away from the fledgling competition, McLennan's bold move forced New Zealand's hand and they eventually increased RA's cut of their deal with Sky Sport. NZR therefore will be thrilled to see the back of McLennan, while he was also seen as a major impediment to the Super Rugby Commission which is still to be set up.

It's expected NZR will have a far more cordial relationship with Waugh, though it will be incumbent on the chief executive to stand up for Australian rugby where he must.

Will McLennan's departure influence the list of candidates for the Wallabies coaching role?

While it is understood that former Brumbies coach Dan McKellar sits at the top of RA's list, McLennan's removal as chairman will be seen as a positive on the open coaching market - particularly any non-Australian thinking of applying.

McLennan's role in the axing of Dave Rennie and appointment of Jones will have likely been a red flag for any international coach, one that has now been removed.

It may not affect the final coaching outcome, but McLennan's presence in the background will be one less thing for the next Wallabies coach to worry about.

Herbert confirmed RA was still hoping to name the next Wallabies coach by the start of the new Super Rugby Pacific in February, but wouldn't be drawn as to whether the field of applicants would be expanded following McLennan's exit.

"I don't know is the honest answer what impact that would have because we haven't gone to market for the Wallaby coach and we won't until we placed the high performance director," he said. "I've been trying to, I guess, get the message across that changing a coach doesn't fix what's going on right now.

"And I know it makes me a copy and I know it makes people feel better we've got a certain coach in place for a period of time, but eventually the scoreboard comes into play. And that's when you get found out. We can't take a short-term focus and we have to put the foundations in place and that starts with a good high performance director that can come in and then run the process to find the coach, and make sure that we find the right fit for our playing group and the right person who can address some of the some of the team's shortcomings of late."

Herbert said the process to find the high performance director was "still ongoing."

How will McLennan's tenure be remembered?

Unlike his predecessor Cameron Clyne, it certainly won't be forgotten anytime soon.

There's no doubt McLennan deserves some plaudits for his role in saving the game from financial ruin in 2020, his efforts in securing the Rugby World Cups of 2027 and 2029, and several key commercial partnerships, but he certainly upset plenty of people along the way.

That disruption was necessary to a degree, and will have a lasting impact, particularly if centralisation - at least in high performance systems and pathways - is achieved across the game.

But McLennan will not be able to shake that tag that it was he who led the charge to sign Jones, thus commencing the debacle that was the Wallabies in 2023. The fact that he didn't front up and ask Jones directly if he had met with Japan ahead of the World Cup, is also a lasting stain on his time as RA chairman.

McLennan, essentially, made a big impact in his stint at RA. Some of it good, some of it bad - but always with the intent of an Angus Bell carry. It just didn't always have the same level of success.