Hamish McLennan believes progress is being made on repairing the trans-Tasman relationship, but the Rugby Australia chairman insists that a domestic only competition remains an option and that Australia won't play "second fiddle" to New Zealand Rugby.
McLennan shook things up earlier this year when he declared that Australia was prepared to go it alone unless a greater share of the Super Rugby pie was shared by New Zealand Rugby [NZR].
The chairman's comments rattled cages on both sides of the Tasman, while he was accused of making empty threats by some over the ditch; that McLennan was merely attempting to carve out a greater financial windfall for Australian rugby.
McLennan doesn't hide from that, but speaking ahead of Bledisloe I in Melbourne the RA chairman dismissed suggestions that he was bluffing, reiterating that if a more lucrative deal for Australia wasn't agreed upon he had the stakeholder support to create a domestic competition.
"It is (a real option), we wouldn't have said it if we weren't real," McLennan told reporters on Thursday. "There's no doubt, we've said it publicly, that the high performance outcomes would probably be better with New Zealand in the mix. But we're not going to play second fiddle so time will tell if we're bluffing.
"But they know we're serious, we've got the backing of our member unions, Super Rugby club chairs and Channel 9 to go domestic. And look, we haven't won a Bledisloe in 20 years so who's to say that a domestic competition wouldn't deliver more money to Rugby Australia and possibly, with more teams and more players, better high performance outcomes.
Despite that, McLennan was optimistic progress had been made with his NZR counterparts and the foundations that were laid in Super Rugby Pacific this season wouldn't simply evaporate after 2023 when the current deal expires.
"I've been consistent in saying [NZR chairman] Stewart Mitchell is a really good guy and so we're still talking about Super Rugby and trans-Tasman," McLennan said.
"We're not there, it's grinding forward I would say. I saw them in Cape Town last week for the sevens so hopefully it will resolve itself or we'll go domestic ... I think the new regime understands and appreciates that New Zealand's future is tied to Australia's success.
"Whether you call that respect, I don't know, but I think there's an acknowledgement that we're actually a pretty important part of their mix now."
McLennan also revealed RA was edging closer to a private equity deal, one that could inject a huge amount of capital in the Australian game just as it has done in New Zealand.
While the $[NZ]200 million deal done by NZR hasn't been without its critics, McLennan sees the benefits of a similar cash injection for Australian rugby, one that can help repair some of the financial damage of the COVID pandemic and lay the platform for a golden era of events that include the British & Irish Lions series and back-to-back World Cups.
"I've just come from a meeting, we're just sort of working through all the various combinations, setting up data room getting all the financial modelling and information sorted out, so we'll be in the market next two to four weeks," he said.
"We're already having informal dialogue with the private equity firms already. So you could argue that's already kicked off."
As for where the 2027 World Cup final would be staged, McLennan said he hadn't yet landed on a city.
While World Rugby will make the final call, each of Perth, Melbourne and Sydney are in the running with another sold-out Wallabies Test, the Bledisloe at Marvel Stadium, proving the Victorian capital certainly had the appetite to bring it south.
"It's a really hard call. I haven't landed on an answer to that yet," he said.
"There's an argument that says we should be serving the major home unions, where there's a lot of history, like Queensland and New South Wales, but then what's to say we couldn't host it to 60,000 people in WA or potentially 100,000 in Melbourne. I mean, that's pretty exciting.
"The dollars have to really drive it to. We're looking at setting up an endowment fund to fund rugby in the future when I'm dead and gone of well over $100 million, so that we don't go through what we went through in 2020 through COVID. So a lot of that will be funded out of the World Cup. So dollars have got to drive it."