Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle is digging in.
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle is digging in.

Rugby boss dodges in prickly interview

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has declared she is going nowhere despite public calls for her to be moved on from Australian rugby's top office.

It comes as the 49-year-old repeatedly refused to answer questions during a prickly radio interview on Wednesday.

The former Canterbury Bulldogs executive on Tuesday flatly dismissed calls from powerful Australian rugby identities, including former coach Alan Jones, that she should resign after a period of unprecedented turmoil for the sport in Australia.

The post-mortem into the Wallabies' quarter-final crash against England has turned its attention to Castle after former coach Michael Cheika fell on his sword less than 24 hours after Australia's elimination from the World Cup.

Seven News reported on Tuesday night that Jones has again piled pressure on Castle and Rugby Australia chairman Cameron Clyne to resign after a disastrous campaign.

The pressure has been further heaped on Castle and Clyne after Cheika dramatically revealed he has no relationship with Castle and next to no relationship with Clyne.

Cheika's grenade during his resignation announcement in Japan came before the team returned to Australia on Tuesday morning where captain Michael Hooper and Wallabies icon David Pocock both refused to blame Cheika for the failed campaign, despite the coach's selections, game-plan and strategies all coming under fire.

Hooper, however, was unable to answer if it was possible for the team to succeed at the tournament when Cheika and Castle had no relationship.

Cheika and Castle have both admitted their relationship essentially broke down when Rugby Australia handed down its high performance review at the end of 2018, where it was recommended that Cheika retain his job - but have to suffer answering to newly appointed director of rugby Scott Johnson.


Raelene Castle says Rugby Australia has the platform to build sustained success.
Raelene Castle says Rugby Australia has the platform to build sustained success.

Castle admitted on Wednesday her relationship with Cheika broke down because of the appointment of Johnson. Johnson has now been given the lead role in Australia's review into the mistakes made during the Tokyo 2019 campaign.

In a prickly interview with host Hamish Macdonald on ABC breakfast radio, Castle:

- First tried to sidestep a question about when she last spoke to Cheika before being called on her failure to answer the question

- Repeatedly refused to directly address questions about if she regrets the appointment of Johnson and if the appointment undermined Cheika; and

- Defended the decision to allow Johnson to lead the review into the failed campaign, despite his newly created position emerging as an obvious point of friction in the team's operation.

Castle at one point butted heads with Macdonald over the hosts repeated pushes to get the top administrator to answer why Johnson will carry out the review, and not an independent figure who would also investigate the impact Johnson's appointment had on the team.

When asked, "Why even have the review," Castle responded:

"Could I just finish, could I just finish.

"Because actually the point is that there was a review last year. What we're talking about is a campaign review to look at why the campaign was not successful."

Castle refused to directly address questions about the impact Johnson's appointment had on Cheika and the team this year.

"We had to make a change," she said of the decision to create a director of rugby role.


Former coach Michael Cheika in Wallabies colours for the final time.
Former coach Michael Cheika in Wallabies colours for the final time.

"At the end of the day our win rate was less than 50 per cent. We had to make some decisions. We had looked to see what the options were. We decided that supporting Michael after a four year build up was the right thing to do. That's what the board did."

She downplayed the significance of her strained relationship with Cheika, saying Johnson became Cheika's main point of contact with RA officials during the tournament.

"I spoke to him (Cheika) during the World Cup and in the lead up to the World Cup," she said.

"The main role for me in this tournament was not the mindgames with Michael, that was Scott Johnson. Scott was appointed into this role and they continue to have a very successful working relationship."

Meanwhile, Cheika says the Wallabies' next coach "definitely" should be Australian.

Cheika returned to Sydney on Tuesday still disappointed by the Wallabies' quarter-final exit, but with no regrets about standing down after five years at the helm.

Cheika was on record months ago as saying he would not seek a reappointment if he couldn't take the Wallabies one step further than their runner-up showing at the 2015 edition in England.