RA chair McLennan on exit: 'Cheap shot' campaign to smear me

Can Hamish McLennan survive 2023 disaster? (3:46)

The ESPN Scrum Reset crew discuss Hamish McLennan's future as RA chairman and if there needs to be more change after the Wallabies' World Cup. (3:46)

Ousted Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has hit out at the actions of the dissenting state unions who led the call for him to resign, declaring there had been a campaign to "smear me" as those same bodies confirmed they would still pursue centralisation under chief executive Phil Waugh and interim chairman Daniel Herbert.

McLennan resigned on Sunday night following a weekend of discussions when he had been intent on continuing in the role he had held since early 2020. Six unions -- the ACT and Southern NSW, Queensland, West Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmanian rugby unions -- had on Friday issued a joint letter calling for McLennan to depart, saying he had lost their confidence.

NSW Rugby, the Victorian Rugby Union and Western Force owner Andrew Forrest were not signatories to the letter.

Speaking to 2GB on Monday morning, McLennan said he was "philosophical" about his exit and departed knowing he had achieved plenty of good for the game, but that he was disappointed by the recent maneuvering that had taken place in the lead-up to the publishing of the letter on Friday.

"I just think that there's no doubt that there's been a coordinated campaign to smear me, and that's been fed back through me and other board members. I think that is a complete cheap shot," McLennan said.

"We've won a World Cup [hosting rights] for the men and women in '27 and '29; we got broadcast deals done; we brought sponsors into the game.

"And if you just look at some of the support I had from former Prime Minister John Howard, John Coates; key sponsors, Cadbury... a lot of support out there and Andrew Forrest and Nicola Forrest, so they're not dumb people, they're really smart, they know it's a journey. And in life, any business takes time to fix."

McLennan's pursuit of centralisation - where rugby and commercial operations would be turned over to RA by the states - had been met with strong resistance since the "strategic reset" of the game was announced in August, to which the five Super Rugby clubs had been signatories through an in-principle agreement, albeit to varying degrees.

While the NSW Rugby Union was first to sign off on centralisation last week, both the ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds had raised concerns over differing aspects of the proposal; the Brumbies concerned they could be moved away from Canberra, while the Reds remain determined to control their own commercial destiny having restored financial stability to the game in Queensland.

McLennan said he believed the Reds and Brumbies were chiefly responsible for the letter that called for his exit, but noted the support he had from the three other Super franchises.

"There were certainly some agitation from the ACT Brumbies and the Queensland Reds, those unions, and some of the minor states in South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania," McLennan told 2GB.

"They said that they weren't happy with the leadership and the performance of the Wallabies and they wanted a change of direction. And what I would say is that three of the Super clubs that drive all the money into the game, being the Force, the Rebels and the Waratahs, were very happy for me to stay."

On Monday morning, the six dissenting Unions issued a statement thanking McLennan for his decision to step away, and said they remained committed to the centralisation plan that will be now spearheaded by chief executive Waugh.

"Mr McLennan has always acted in what he genuinely believed was in the best interests of our game, and his resignation today is a demonstration of this," the joint statement read.

"It is an honourable decision that recognises his continued service had become a distraction to the game.

"Mr McLennan cannot be faulted for his energy or devotion to rugby, nor his tireless efforts for the game.

"In particular, his efforts during the COVID pandemic helped secure the game's future during its darkest hour.

"The Member Unions remain committed to working with Rugby Australia's new chair Dan Herbert and chief executive officer Phil Waugh on their plans for high-performance centralisation."

Meanwhile, McLennan also said the length of Eddie Jones' contract had been misreported in the media, despite a RA media release on Jan. 16 clearly stating that the coach had joined the Wallabies on a "long-term deal until 2027."

Jones departed his post earlier this month just nine-and-a-half months into his tenure, after Australia had failed to reach the quarterfinals of the men's Rugby World Cup for the first time.

"He wasn't actually appointed for a five-year deal, that's been misreported for a long time," McLennan said. "It cost us no money when he left, and we wanted him to stay the full course because what rugby has to do is think long term.

"So we said to Eddie we want you to go all the way through to the [27] World Cup and that was the plan, but we both had get-out clauses, so that's misreported and wrong."

While McLennan said he wished Rugby Australia well and would continue to be a passionate fan of the game, he saw no reason why he should remain on the board if it wasn't in the role of chairman.

"Well I think when a board goes through a process like that, they obviously want change," McLennan said. "I understand it was a bit of a split vote, which is interesting, so I think what's happened is actually going to create more divisions within rugby, not less, as they talk about unity.

"I just felt on a principle that they can't lean on me to continue to help on broadcast deals and the Rugby World Cups in Australia, and all the other commercial matters, and still expect me to contribute in that regard. So really on a principle I just sort of said 'if you want to change the direction, you guys go for it, and you run it."