Clubs put heat on NSW Rugby board as chairman prepares to leave in May

A number of influential Sydney club figures are demanding change at NSW Rugby board level following the controversial sacking of Waratahs coach Rob Penney on Sunday, and even Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has pre-emptively welcomed further changes at the battling organisation.

The call for wider accountability came as under fire Waratahs chairman Roger Davis refused to confirm whether he would stand down at the next NSWRU annual general meeting, which will be held in May. Sources with knowledge of the situation told the Herald Davis has agreed to depart his role at the AGM.

The Waratahs have lost all five matches of their Super Rugby AU campaign.Credit:Getty

After five straight losses and the Waratahs arguably at their lowest ebb following Penney’s abrupt dismissal on Sunday, there are calls in clubland for the NSW Rugby board, and in particular Davis as chairman, to be just as accountable given the build-up of issues that have contributed to woeful on-field performances.

“[Penney’s exit] is a necessary circuit breaker to reset the Waratahs and I hope this is just the beginning of the reinvention of the Waratahs at all levels,” McLennan said. “This will be an important step in rebuilding our rugby culture.”

NSW Rugby chief executive Paul Doorn said on Monday a thorough review would be conducted on the organisation’s recruiting process, how the Waratahs can better identify talent, and how more high-profile players can be lured to NSW.

Doorn was also pressed on the board’s need to take greater responsibility and whether fans had reason to think Penney was made a scapegoat for issues beyond his control.

“All parts of our organisation are taking responsibility, whether that’s the board, management, or even the coaching staff,” Doorn said.

Davis did not return calls on Monday but texted through a response when asked if he planned to stay beyond the upcoming AGM.

“Concerning succession and board governance, that’s ultimately a board matter that I don’t intend to comment on for obvious reasons but suffice to say I certainly don’t intend to stay on forever as some flatteringly suggest,” Davis wrote.

Sources told the Herald Davis and the NSW board don’t want his impending exit made public now because he would be made to look like a fall guy for the team’s poor performances off the back of Penney’s axing.

One senior rugby official, who asked not to be named, told the Herald: “Any true leader should make that known now to take the heat out of the situation and allow for a sensible transition.”

Many in Sydney club rugby, including Easts president John Murray, believe the change at NSW Rugby should be wider.

Senior Sydney club bosses on Monday were privately upset at the lack of accountability on display.

Many in Sydney rugby circles do not believe the change should stop with Penney.Credit:Brook Mitchell

“We feel for Rob Penney,” Murray said. “Whilst Rob has been the focal point for the Waratahs’ poor performance, many others, from the board down, need to share the responsibility for the current position of the Waratahs.

“We now need the biggest rugby market in Australia firing – the coach alone cannot fix that.

‘Fans aren’t idiots. It’s a much more varied and layered situation than simply [axing] the head coach.’

“Off-field is where the restructuring needs to start and that generally begins at the top, at board level. We need to see game day reinvigorated, far more community engagement, better roster management and forward planning and perhaps more development done via clubs all over the state. That strategy … if that hasn’t been set, maybe it’s time for a rethink.

“It’s also a disaster for Easts and other Sydney clubs if our players leave the Waratahs.”

Randwick club coach and Nine commentator Morgan Turinui said the board needed to take responsibility, more than the coaching staff, given the inherent issues plaguing the Waratahs’ inability to perform.

“Fans aren’t idiots,” Turinui said. “It’s a much more varied and layered situation than simply the head coach. Now it’s done, there is always an opportunity to make real significant change for the better. Don’t you dare waste the opportunity.

“Of the 20 issues they’ve got, 15 ain’t coaching. Think about governance, pathways, talent ID, contracting, use of cap spend, succession planning of lists and the people responsible for that.

“It’s pretty red hot to sit there and sack him for losing given the situation they’re in.”

Western Sydney Two Blues president Brian Blacklock called on NSW Rugby to help improve the profile of the game out west.

“The departure of Rob Penney was met with ‘who … what?’ by the average footy fan in Western Sydney,” Blacklock said. “The profile of the game has slipped so far that most people, even rugby fans west of Camperdown, would struggle to name any Waratahs players, let alone their coach.

“Now that there is money flowing back to the game from Nine, it’s time overhaul the governance model which has overseen the decline and rethink the promotion and pathways of the game to attract and retain more young talented footballers back to the code.”

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