Rugby Australia boss dangles World Cup carrot in trans-Tasman negotiations

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has dangled the carrot of a Rugby World Cup pool being hosted in New Zealand in 2027 as negotiations continue around a potential trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition in 2021.

McLennan is only 10 days into the job, having replaced interim chairman Paul McLean, but the former Channel 10 chief executive is already making moves to ensure Australian rugby not only survives the coronavirus pandemic but also hopefully flourishes into the future.

One of his first efforts was to announce an advisory committee that will oversee RA's bid for the 2027 World Cup, for which they are at this stage the only bidder, a virtual "who's who" of Australian rugby, business and politics.

While seven years away, winning the rights to host that tournament could set Australian rugby up for the following decade at least; certainly the lessons learned from the last time Australia hosted the event in 2003 would serve as cautionary tale on how not to use the significant financial windfall.

But it could also present New Zealand Rugby with a small financial windfall, too, with McLennan confirming that he would be open to sending one of the tournament's four pools across the Tasman, particularly if it further raised the chances of a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition from next year.

"You guys, at the end of the day there is a lot of history between our two countries, so I'm really open to that," McLennan told Sky Sport's The Breakdown when asked of the possibility of New Zealand hosting some 2027 World Cup games.

"If you supported us in that way, I'm very open to it. And if we can do more cross-Tasman in Super Rugby that's great. I want to have a friendly and cooperative relationship with you guys, you are what you are, you're a fantastic rugby nation.

"But when it comes to the world cup, as you would have seen, we've put an advisory board together that's second to none, we're really keen to win it ... and if you got a few pool games or a pool I'd be up for that."

McLennan's potential offer comes a few days after the four chief executives of Australia's four Super Rugby franchises were due to hold a teleconference with their New Zealand colleagues to discuss a trans-Tasman solution to the wider Super Rugby uncertainty for 2021.

While there have been suggestions Australia may have to cut franchises or even merge the Brumbies and Rebels, McLennan wants all four current Super outfits to be involved, as well as the Western Force. The chairman has already spent time trying to mend a relationship that was broken by the decision to axe the West Australian outfit after the 2017 Super Rugby season.

But doubts remain over Australia's ability to support five professional franchises from a player-depth perspective, the country's 40-game trans-Tasman losing run across 2017/18 still fresh in the mind, particularly when, as four franchises, Australia had already registered two victories over New Zealand opposition, and should have had two more, before the competition was cancelled earlier this year.

McLennan raised the prospect of opening up further spots within Australia's franchises to international players to help make the five teams more competitive, if indeed the trans-Tasman competition does get the go-ahead.

"At the moment the depth I'd probably say the depth isn't quite there, but we've got to try and build a competition for the long term.," McLennan said. "I'd consider opening up more spots up to overseas players, just depending on how things go through the COVID crisis; if there are international players that can come down and play a part in that competition with you guys that would add a lot of interest.

"But we've got to aim to build our depth and get better programs in place, get more kids playing over the long term, and that will work and service well collectively over the long term.

"When you talk to the broadcasters, we think that if we're able to do something with New Zealand that will be optimal and everyone thinks that a cross-Tasman competition where we field proper teams, good teams with depth, will be the best way forward."