Former Australian rugby boss John O’Neill has labelled Steve Hansen’s claims as absurd and told the ex-All Blacks coach to ‘stick to his day job’.
Adding his voice to the ongoing debate about a trans-Tasman competition taking place from next year, Hansen urged New Zealand Rugby not to give in to Rugby Australia’s demands during negotiations.
‘Without being controversial, we have been looking after the Aussies for years. And every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.
‘Do we owe them something? No. But because we are the nation we are, and we care about the game more than just ourselves, we bend and buckle a bit. I think NZ Rugby are in the mood for having strong discussions, because they only get one shot at it.’
Hansen’s jibe about Australia ‘going missing’ was in reference to RA’s supposed hand in New Zealand losing the hosting rights to 2003 World Cup. Hansen says the saga is just ‘one example of a sometimes rocky relationship’ between the countries.
But in an attempt to set the record straight, O’Neill – who was the chief executive of the RA (formerly ARU) from 1995 to 2004 and then again from 2007 to 2012 – has blown Hansen’s argument out of the water.
‘I’ll paraphrase the conclusions; the NZRU shot themselves in the foot,’ O’Neill told the Herald. ‘Rugby World Cup and the International Rugby Board [IRB] had particular conditions about clean stadia and you either had to comply or lose the hosting rights.
‘Yes, the terms and conditions for hosting may well have been onerous … but in our language, like it or lump it. New Zealand Rugby – through arrogance and hubris – thought they could force the IRB and Rugby World Cup to change the rules. They didn’t. Judge Eichelbaum’s words about me were that I did no more than act in the best interests of Australian rugby.
‘Steve [Hansen] can make as many comments about rugby as he wants, but in this case he was not in the vicinity and it’s part of the game he wouldn’t know anything about. If he lumps that in the category as an example of Australia letting New Zealand down or going missing, that doesn’t stack up. Steve Hansen is a great coach but he should stick to his day job.
‘The host union for 2003 was the ARU … New Zealand was the sub-host. There was an agreement where the host and the sub-host had to sign and it had certain pretty onerous conditions attached to it. The ARU signed up, New Zealand did sign it, but sent it through with all the clauses they didn’t like crossed out. It was null and void.
‘The ARU were told you will have to rebid for the entire tournament. We did. We were told if we didn’t rebid for the whole lot then there were nations like France waiting in the wings. We blew them out of the water with a compelling bid and the rest is history. It was an enormous controversy, up there with the underarm bowling incident, but the New Zealand Rugby board did not take responsibility for the extent their constituents thought they should.
‘Ever since Australia hosted the World Cup on its own in 2003 … the template is one country. When England hosted it in 2015, it was just in England. Sharing it around doesn’t work. I know that might be a bargaining chip [for a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition] but I’d separate that out.’
O’Neill added that he can’t believe New Zealanders are still upset by what happened nearly two decades ago.
‘It’s absolutely absurd. Move on. Brinkmanship only gets you so far.’
Photo: Getty Images