Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has thrown his support behind a continued Super Rugby Pacific and admitted surprise at Hamish McLennan’s trans-Tasman threat to walk away.
Provocative Rugby Australia chairman McLennan lobbed what Tim Horan called a “hand grenade” across the ditch last week by threatening to revert to a domestic competition after the two-season SRP contract ends next year.
Rennie, a New Zealander, told reporters on Monday that his position hadn’t changed.
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Australia was not represented in Saturday’s SRP final, won by the Crusaders.
“I think I’ve made it pretty clear in the past, I think it’s good for both countries that we play trans-Tasman footy,” Rennie said.
“I think the competition’s been excellent this year and our sides have certainly been more competitive. I think it’s good for them, it’s good for us. I’d like to see that continue.”
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Asked if McLennan’s threat had come out of the blue, Rennie replied “yes”.
“I understand Hamish is an innovative thinker and I guess from a commercial point of view we want a bigger slice of the pie. So I understand his thinking.
“I’m not going to crystal ball gaze the situation. I think what a lot of New Zealand types will think too – that us playing trans-Tasman games is good for us.
“We’ve just got to make sure that financially it’s beneficial as well. So I’m supportive of the competition continuing but that’s not my call… they’ve got some of the best players in the world, as we’ve seen, so you want to be playing the best players. It’s how we’ll get better and be challenged. It’s important.”
On the other side of the Tasman, Sir John Kirwan, Mils Muliaina and Jeff Wilson put the boot into McLennan for the timing and the nature of his threat.
In a move widely seen as a tactic to extract more money from NZ Rugby, McLennan said last week that “all bets were off”.
That provoked an angry response from the trio of former All Blacks on The Breakdown on Sunday, who saw it as a cynical and unnecessary bargaining tactic that would put stress on SRP newcomers Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua.
“I think it’s all talk. I’m disappointed too,” Muliaina said.
“Purely for that fact that we spoke about Moana and the Drua… they finally get into a competition and Hamish comes out and says we’re going to leave them. He’s the only one who thinks it’s going to happen. Even the Australian players. We need each other.
“This competition has been so great and to hear stuff like that come out in the week of the final. That is just crap.”
Kirwan said leaving Super Rugby would be “the dumbest political decision they could make”, and he was strongly in favour of Australian sides in the competition.
Wilson said that New Zealand and Australia “needed each other” to build Super Rugby Pacific into a strong competition, but could not hide his frustration at McLennan’s comments.
“I think this is just a pure power play, in terms of trying to negotiate more funds for Australian rugby,” Wilson said.
“I’m bitterly disappointed to hear him talking like that.
“When you commit to something for a couple of years, you commit to the Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua sides… how do you think they feel right now Hamish?
“In regards to the fact you’ve opened a door for them, and you’re thinking about, ‘We’re going to walk away from them now because it’s in the best interests of us, or we think it is?’ I’ll give you an example. Australian netball is in the hole for $4 million. They walked away from the trans-Tasman competition with New Zealand, and they have been worse off financially.
“There’s a danger if you walk away. To be fair though, we also need them, and I do get where they are coming from… we’ve created something, they’ve committed to it, and now they’re talking about walking away?
“I’m really disappointed in this because this tells me about our relationship.”
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