Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has expressed his support for an ongoing Super Rugby Pacific and has admitted his surprise at Hamish McLennan’s trans-Tasman threat to run away.
Provocative Rugby Australia chairman McLennan lobbed what Tim Horan called a “hand grenade” over the ditch last week by threatening to return to a domestic league after the two-season SRP contract expires next year.
Rennie, a New Zealander, told reporters on Monday that his position had not 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,” said Rennie.
“I think the competition has 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 it stay that way.”
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When asked if McLennan’s threat came out of the blue, Rennie replied “yes.”
“I understand that Hamish is an innovative thinker and I think from a commercial point of view we want a bigger slice of the pie. So I understand his way of thinking.
“I’m not going to stare at the situation in a crystal ball. I think whatever many New Zealand types will think – that playing trans-Tasman games is good for us.
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“We just have to make sure it’s also financially beneficial. So I support the continuation of the league, but that’s not my decision… they have some of the best players in the world, as we’ve seen, so you want to play against the best players. That’s how we get better and we are challenged. That’s important.”
On the other side of the Tasman, Sir John Kirwan, Mils Muliaina and Jeff Wilson put the shoe in McLennan for the timing and nature of his threat.
In a move widely seen as a tactic to get more money out of NZ Rugby, McLennan said last week that “all bets were off”.
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That sparked an angry reaction from the trio of former All Blacks to The malfunction on Sunday, who saw it as a cynical and unnecessary bargaining tactic that would pressure SRP newcomers Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua.
“I think it’s all talk. I’m disappointed too,” said Muliaina.
“Just for the fact that we were talking about Moana and the Drua… they finally enter 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.
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“This competition was so great and to hear things like that coming the week of the final. That’s just nonsense.”
Kirwan said leaving Super Rugby “would be the dumbest political decision they could make”, and he was a big supporter of Australian teams in the competition.
Wilson said New Zealand and Australia “needed each other” to make Super Rugby Pacific a strong league, but he couldn’t hide his frustration at McLennan’s comments.
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“I think this is just a pure power play, in terms of trying to negotiate more money for Australian rugby,” Wilson said.
“I am bitterly disappointed to hear him talk like that.
“If you commit to something for a few years, you commit to the side of Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua… how do you think they feel now, Hamish?
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“In regards to the fact that you’ve opened a door for them and you’re thinking, ‘We’re going to run away from them now because it’s in our best interest, or we think so?’ Let me give you an example: Australian netball is down at $4 million, they walked away from the trans-Tasman competition with New Zealand and they are in a worse financial position.
“There’s a danger if you run away. To be honest, we need them too, and I understand where they’re coming from… we’ve created something, they’ve committed to it, and now they’re talking about running away?
“I’m really disappointed with this because this tells me about our relationship.”
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