Canterbury's Stewart Mitchell has been appointed New Zealand Rugby chairman, with Dr Farah Palmer as his deputy, after a tense board meeting in Auckland on Monday night.
Mitchell, a qualified accountant who has served on the NZ Rugby board since 2014, is thought to have narrowly edged East Coast president and Pango Productions chief executive Bailey Mackey.
Former North Harbour chairman and Blues director Shaun Nixon also stood in the vote to replace Brent Impey, who now steps down after seven years in the NZ Rugby chairman role.
Mackey wanted to bring transformational change to every level of the game and will be disappointed to miss his chance to lead this time around. He posted a message to social media after the vote which read: "Courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently".
In Mitchell, NZ Rugby have opted for a steady hand.
An experienced strategic and business consultant with over 30 years' experience in governance, and a former NZ Colts representative, Mitchell severed on the Crusaders board since 2008 and as Canterbury chairman before joining the NZ Rugby board seven years ago.
Mitchell's appointment comes at a defining period for NZ Rugby as it attempts to navigate the ongoing standoff with the Players' Association over the proposal to sell 12.5 per cent of NZR's commercial rights for $387.5 million to US technology investment firm Silverlake.
The Players' Association, through their collective bargaining agreement, have blocked the deal and instead tabled an alternative proposal in partnership with investment company Forsyth Barr to sell a five per cent stake in NZ Rugby's commercial rights via a public share float that would raise between $170m and $190m.
"New Zealand Rugby sits at a critical juncture and I am excited at the opportunity to lead rugby into a new era alongside Farah who will be an outstanding deputy," Mitchell said in a statement.
"Our game faces multiple challenges from the community game to the professional ranks and I can't wait to address those challenges head on.
"It is an exciting and challenging time to be involved. I believe we have a unique opportunity to re-imagine rugby and to lead the world and innovate on and off the field. I'd like to acknowledge Brent [Impey] for his contribution to the board, and personally for his support over the years."
The NZR board also voted Palmer, a former Black Ferns captain, into the role of deputy chair. Palmer is the Associate Dean (Māori) for Massey business school as well as chair of the Māori Rugby Board and a Sport NZ board member.
She was appointed as NZ Rugby's first woman board director in 2016 and is on the Rugby World Cup 2021 committee. Palmer said: "What a true privilege to be given this opportunity and I am excited at the prospect of working with Stewart in his new capacity as chair as we work together to take the game into the future. We have a strong and talented board overall and I have no doubt we can achieve some great things for the whole game."
Impey welcomed Mitchell and Palmer's appointments.
"It's a transformational time for rugby and Stewart and Farah are the right people to take us forward. Stewart has proven himself over a long period of time with Canterbury, the Crusaders and New Zealand Rugby where he has been an invaluable board member and Farah with her current role on the NZR board as well as chair of the Māori Rugby Board and the key role she is playing on the RWC 2021 committee," Impey said.
text by Liam Napier, NZ Herald