Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean has staunchly backed departed CEO Raelene Castle, who he says was subjected to bullying from “faceless people” during nearly three years in the job.
Castle stepped down on Thursday night, with former Wallabies captain McLean replacing her in the “very short term” before the search for a replacement officially begins on Monday.
He described Castle as someone who would run through broken glass for the organisation and that it was the criticism most did not see that lead to her decision to quit.
“Criticism is easy, being cynical is easy, but decision making is tough,” McLean said. “She was able to do that and do that with some clarity. She would run through broken glass to get things done, and she has done that.”
Castle’s handling of the Israel Folau settlement and her rejection of Fox Sports’ initial broadcast deal beyond this season were a source of criticism from some quarters, while the code’s financial plight has been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.
A group of 11 former Wallabies captains wrote to RA earlier this week demanding administrative change, while long-time critic Alan Jones doubled down on Friday morning.
“She knows nothing about the game,” the former Wallabies coach turned broadcaster said on 2GB. “It’s like putting someone to become the first violinist in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra who can’t read music.”
McLean said it was not the media criticism that stung though. “It’s the silent forces, the dark forces that upset me most,” he said.
“It’s the people who didn’t ask, didn’t know the facts or just one of those faceless people out there that was the damaging thing from her perspective and she shared some of that with me, which I found quite abhorrent.
“[If not for the] unwarranted criticism and, in fact, bullying, I think it might have been a different scenario.”
McLean insisted most people in Castle’s position would “have thrown in the towel ages ago” but that inevitably her departure had become the clear way forward. He dismissed the impact of the former captains’ letter, saying they could easily align with recovery efforts that were already underway.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with Nick Farr-Jones and, let’s be clear here, it’s a very small collective of [those] people who have been involved in the game of late,” McLean said. “The significance of that group is probably the people that aren’t on the list.”
Newly installed board member Peter Wiggs, fellow director and former Wallaby Daniel Herbert, and Phil Kearns – one of the ex-captains to put their name to the letter – are among those being touted to replace Castle.