SYDNEY (Reuters) -Former Wallaby Dan Herbert said there would be no change to Rugby Australia's drive to integrate high performance across the country after he replaced Hamish McLennan as chair of the governing body in a boardroom coup at the weekend.
With the game still reeling from the debacle of Australia's early World Cup exit, McLennan was voted out in the last of a series of emergency board meetings on Sunday and resigned as a director.
Herbert, who played 67 tests for Australia in the golden era around the turn of the century when the Wallabies won the World Cup for the second time, said a change at the top had been essential to unite the game.
"There's lot of admiration and respect for Hamish and what he's done stepping into this seat when probably not many people would have done it," he told reporters on Monday.
"He led us through COVID and has really been fundamental about the changes that are required and that's not going to change with me and the directors. We are steadfast on that.
"We feel that moving forward, the game requires everyone to unite. And we felt that that would only be achieved with a change in the chair role."
The move against McLennan was precipitated on Friday by six state unions, most notably the powerful Queensland and Australian Capital Territory (ACT) bodies, signing a letter calling for him to resign.
"Certainly this group of stakeholders felt that they weren't being heard, and that they didn't like the direction that they were being taken in, or the style," Queenslander Herbert added.
"There will always be a level of friction there ... but it's got to be respectful."
McLennan had driven the hiring of Eddie Jones and sacking of Dave Rennie as Wallabies coach in January, a decision that backfired spectacularly when the former England coach selected an inexperienced squad for the World Cup.
Jones resigned at the end of October saying the structural changes to the game required to make the Wallabies competitive were unlikely to be realised in the short term.
Chief executive Phil Waugh launched a plan for structural reforms in August and last week announced that the New South Wales Rugby Union would be the first to hand over their high performance programme to centralised RA control.
Other states had qualms about the wholesale takeover of their high performance units, which includes their Super Rugby teams.
Herbert said there were differences of opinion on how the alignment should be achieved but everyone agreed that it had to happen as chopping and changing the national team coach alone would no longer do the job.
"We keep looking for a sugar hit, it's just not coming," he added. "So we need to put the foundations in, we need to get the right people in, and then we need to get the unity."
McLennan, who put RA back on an even keel financially and secured the hosting of the men's and women's World Cups for 2027 and 2029 during his time in charge, said his ousting had been about "money and control".
"We'll see how it plays out," he told 2GB radio on Monday.
"I think there's no doubt that there's been a coordinated campaign to smear me, and that's been fed back to me and other board members."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Toby Davis, Peter Rutherford)