Michael Cheika’s revelation that he has no relationship with CEO Raelene Castle or chairman Cameron Clyne has reportedly “plunged Rugby Australia’s legal case against Israel Folau into chaos.”
Rugby Australia's hellish season lurched again on Sunday when five-year head coach Cheika announced he will quit his post, taking pot shots at Castle and Clyne on his way out.
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He said he barely had a relationship with the pair and voiced his displeasure at a change to the Wallabies coaching structure this year, saying he never felt comfortable with new director of rugby Scott Johnson overseeing his role.
And according to leading rugby writer Jamie Pandaram, the revelation of a rift between three of the key parties in Rugby Australia’s case against Folau is very bad news.
Folau is reportedly seeking to exploit a loophole in his termination in an attempt to play Super Rugby next season, after RA stated his sacking wasn’t a restraint of trade because it: “does not prohibit Mr Folau from seeking to secure a new player contract with Rugby Australia and the operator of an Australian Super Rugby team which would enable him to play for the Wallabies and/or an Australian Super Rugby team”.
According to Pandaram: “RA needs to work together to build a case that the re-employment of Folau — should he refuse to guarantee he will not make further inflammatory social media posts — would put the game at risk of financial ruin.”
However RA is currently in a state of disarray following the Wallabies’ dismal exit from the World Cup in the quarter-finals.
A number of former Wallabies stars have called for a complete overhaul of the RA hierarchy, with Greg Martin on Monday calling for Castle and Clyne to be replaced.
“The chairman wasn’t strong enough, the CEO hasn’t been strong enough. We need rugby people in those positions, true rugby people,” Martin told Fox Sports News on Monday.
“They need to blow it up straight away. Whatever the process is the board, and there’s some duds on it, they need to go. They need to get a new CEO and a new chairman with a bit of strength.”
Pandaram says the chaos could play into Folau’s hands.
“Such turbulence with the Australian rugby ranks hardly bodes well for their legal case,” he wrote on Wednesday.
“There are no guarantees Castle or Clyne will remain in their jobs by February should the case proceed to trial.”
Wallabies hunt for new coach
Ironically, it is Johnson who will lead the process to identify and appoint a coach by Christmas, a process that was well underway before the Wallabies bowed out of the World Cup.
Whoever comes on board will have Cheika's comments echoing.
"I think it's no secret that I've pretty much got no relationship with the CEO and not much with the chairman," Cheika said.
"Scott's a lovely bloke and I get on fine with him but I'm sort of not really into that type of thing (layered coaching structure)."
Castle described the World Cup outcome as "incredibly disappointing", before taking it a step further when assessing the Wallabies' modest returns over the last four years under Cheika.
"No, I don't think anyone would think that we have been satisfied with the results. I think it has been a very challenging time."
She defended the retention of Cheika following a widespread review last December, saying the information gathered had proved invaluable as RA seeks to not just find a quality replacement but also improve other parts of the high performance pathway.
"We looked at the (coaching) options that we had available to us but could not just think about Rugby World Cup, but think about the longer-term options for rugby in Australia," Castle said.
"We made the decision in appointing Scott Johnson into that role and to think about, yes, the improvements he could bring to the program in the short-term but definitely with the long-term strategy as well."
Glasgow-base Kiwi Dave Rennie is heavily favoured to be the new coach because of his excellent reputation and close relationship with Johnson, who was director of rugby in Scotland last year.
Cheika's bitter departure words continue a 2019 dotted with bushfires for RA to put out, alongside the inferno which is the litigation battle around the torn-up contract of former star Israel Folau.