NZ Rugby leadership set for uncomfortable review

Another key stipulation of the review is that it is a public process, with findings to be published in full. This will be welcomed by the wider rugby community given the lack of confidence in the leadership of NZ Rugby following his failed handling of questions over Foster’s future in the All Blacks managerial position.

“It’s not what’s happening, it’s the way you handle it – and the way they handled it was just shocking,” a prominent member of the rugby community told Stuff.

Ian Foster, All Blacks manager.Credit:Getty Images

“Whether [chief executive Mark Robinson and Foster] had stood side by side through this process, they didn’t need all this confusing and negative narrative.

“Where were the board and management? What the hell were they doing?

The review is expected to place the actions and decision-making of the board under a level of scrutiny not seen since the 2002 review by Sir Thomas Eichelbaum of the NZRFU (as the national body was dubbed at the time). ) following the loss of co-hosting rights with Australia of the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

NZ Rugby chairman Stewart Mitchell said he was confident his board’s performance would stand up to scrutiny.

“I think it’s a good board, and it’s working well right now,” he said.

“We must always stay ahead of the curve and be relevant to New Zealand society so I am more than comfortable having a review, we have changes underway with the establishment of our business arm, which has governance implications. There are also legislative changes going on, so I think [the review] is timely.

Performance holes

While NZ Rugby’s series of public relations missteps over the past six weeks have grabbed headlines, a bigger failure came at the end of last year when the board n didn’t properly question the reasons for the All Blacks’ lackluster performance on the northern tour. Sources say a lack of high performance knowledge on the board was exposed when it readily accepted the narrative that COVID-related challenges and the hardships of bubble life were to blame for the poor performance.

Others wondered if the board’s attention had been diverted by a more immediate training crisis. At the time, the organization was also dealing with the fallout from the Black Ferns’ surrender during their trip to the northern hemisphere and allegations of environmental bullying, which led to an independent review.

Either way, rather than making a thoughtful call at the start of the year giving them time to fold into any changes, NZ Rugby put themselves in the position of having to make training decisions on the fly in the middle of the rugby championship. , leading to claims that Foster’s retention was motivated in part by expediency.

Stuff understands the board was initially split in two over whether or not to retain Foster, with Mitchell getting the deciding vote. Once the call was made, the board later agreed to throw their weight behind Foster.

Mitchell, however, is adamant there was no indecision. He says the claims of a split council were “categorically incorrect”.

“The board was unanimous in its decision to reappoint Ian Foster as head coach.”

In announcing Foster’s retention following a mid-season “debrief”, Robinson said his organization had “drawn a line under” the issue. However, behind the scenes, the fallout is rumbling.

The treatment of Crusaders coach Scott Robertson – the man widely tipped to replace Foster – during the process has caused angst. Robertson has reportedly been asked to round up his coaching staff following the All Blacks’ 26-10 loss to South Africa in the Rugby Championship opener. Robertson’s roster was said to include Blues coach Leon MacDonald and Hurricanes mentor Jason Holland, forcing those clubs to start working on contingency plans for their own coaching rosters.

Mitchell would not be drawn to questions about NZ Rugby’s talks with Robertson or whether he felt the six-time Super Rugby-winning coach was treated fairly during the process.

“I don’t really want to go there,” Mitchell said.

“Scott is a very important part of our rugby ecosystem, he’s a very good coach, and I’m sure his time will come.”

But the apparent about-face by NZ Rugby management has led to a loss of goodwill among supporters of Foster and Robertson. He also had some remedial work to do with Super Rugby bosses left miffed by the unnecessary panic of coaches.

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Meanwhile, New Zealand are entering tense negotiations with their SANZAAR partners over the shape of the Super Rugby competition beyond next season, in which multiple sources have claimed NZ Rugby is still feeling the effects of the decisions. taken by former President Brent Impey.

Impey has been accused of “burning SANZAAR” in 2020 by continuing a national competition during COVID-19 at a time when the partners should have been working together.

However, a source points out that with Impey out of the fray he has become a handy scapegoat for the relationship breakdown as NZ Rugby enters damage control mode.

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“There were collective decisions made for which they all must take responsibility,” they said.

All can agree that Impey was a dominant president, who was hugely influential in appointing Robinson to the top job.

There was some unease that Impey remained on the board after his chairmanship ended, preventing Robinson from developing his own style as chief executive. Now out of Impey’s shadow, Robinson appears undecided, with NZ Rugby suddenly very responsive to public opinion.

The process of nominating a new chairman of the board was also far from straightforward, with early signs that media entrepreneur and former East Coast representative Bailey Mackey was the frontrunner for the job, before a veteran 11th-Hour Left-wing administrator, Mitchell, won’t vote.

“It’s a pretty interesting showcase,” a source told Stuff.

“You have a president who’s there due to a last-minute change of heart, and a CEO who can’t seem to do much, and a bad public persona.”

Wider questions have also arisen over whether the board has enough “quality people” and the expertise to lead the organization into a new era. Others have raised concerns that one of NZ Rugby’s biggest assets on the board – Bart Campbell, a leading figure in the sports and entertainment industry – will comes with too many commercial links.

The upcoming review will provide an answer to these questions and, if necessary, the mechanism for change within NZ Rugby that many in the game consider to be overdue.

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