The strained relationship between Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby has taken another turn for the worse.
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has doubled down on his recent comments saying Australia could walk away from Super Rugby Pacific in 2024 by launching another attack on NZ Rugby, suggesting the Kiwis "are not good partners".
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, McLennan said he laughed at criticism coming out of New Zealand over his declaration that RA could quit the transtasman competition in favour of a domestic one.
According to McLennan, RA wanted a five-year contract when negotiating terms of Super Rugby Pacific, but NZR only agreed to two years.
The main sticking point in McLennan's comments was the imbalance of broadcast revenue between RA and NZR, with NZR receiving $98 million from Sky TV, while RA's deal with Nine and Stan was only $36.3m, a deal RA agreed to after failing to attract bigger offers.
His comments became a subject of debate on Sky's rugby TV show Breakdown, where All Blacks greats Mils Muliaina, John Kirwan and Jeff Wilson criticised McLennan's comments.
"He's the only one who thinks it's going to happen. Even the Australian players [don't]," said Muliaina. "This competition has been so great and to hear stuff like that come out in the week of the final ... that is just crap. I think it's all talk. I'm disappointed."
Kirwan labelled McLennan's comments "the dumbest political decision they [Rugby Australia] could make", while Wilson, added: "I'm really disappointed in this because [of what] this tells me about our relationship."
McLennan said he wasn't bothered at all about the Kiwi criticism.
"Bring it on. I was laughing about it. It didn't worry me at all," McLennan said. "Those guys are not privy to the actions of NZR in recent times.
"Their aggressive reaction towards Australia perhaps shows why they are not good partners. They have reacted so violently when we've honoured their two-year deal."
Former Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke and New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson during friendlier times. Photo / Photosport
McLennan also blamed NZR for South Africa's decision to leave Super Rugby and potentially the Rugby Championship further down the line.
"Why are they so annoyed at us exercising our right to explore our options when they forcibly kicked out South Africa and Argentina from Super Rugby for good?" McLennan said. "South Africa leaving Sanzaar will have a far more devastating impact on rugby in our part of the world."
South Africa Rugby has suggested that it is considering leaving the Rugby Championship to join the Six Nations in 2025.
Former Wallabies captain echoed McLennan's sentiments, saying the new bosses are "standing up for us".
"New Zealand have been taking advantage of Australia's weakness over the last 20 years," Kearns told the Sydney Morning Herald. "You've got to be quite pragmatic about this and if New Zealand don't want to be a partner, then that's OK. We'll go it alone or find someone else to partner with. We've got great friends in Fiji and Moana Pasifika. They have been great partners. They can be with us as well.
"There's lots to play out but I think Australian rugby fans should be pretty excited that we've now got a couple of administrators [McLennan and chief executive Andy Marinos] who are standing up for us.
"Australia's now in good shape, with a great pathway into the future with the 2027 and 2029 World Cups, 2032 Brisbane Olympics and a British and Irish Lions series in 2025. For the first time in a long time, I've got confidence in the future of Australian rugby."
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said this week he hoped Super Rugby Pacific would continue in 2024.
"I think it's good for both countries that we play transtasman footy," Rennie said. "I think the competition has been excellent this year and our sides have been more competitive. I think it's good for them, it's good for us. I'd like to see that continue.
"I understand Hamish is an innovative thinker. From a commercial point of view, [Rugby Australia] want a bigger slice of the pie. So I understand his thinking."
NZR declined to comment when approached by the Herald.