Rugby AU boss McLennan: We want to tap Sydney's west

Can Hamish McLennan survive 2023 disaster? (3:46)

The ESPN Scrum Reset crew discuss Hamish McLennan's future as RA chairman and if there needs to be more change after the Wallabies' World Cup. (3:46)

Defiant Rugby Australia [RA] chairman Hamish McLennan has said he is trying to make the game more accessible, and the governing body will use the long trumpeted investment into the game to "tap Sydney's western suburbs" at grassroots level.

The under-fire RA administrator also said that despite Eddie Jones' doubts, the path to centralisation with the states and the Super Rugby franchises was becoming clearer, with McLennan determined to "fix the system" he feels was as much to blame as anything for Australia's World Cup flop.

In what was a wide-ranging interview with Stan Sport, McLennan also stopped short of offering former Wallabies coach Dave Rennie an apology, and rejected multiple reports that he had largely made a "captain's pick" to have Jones take over at the start of the year.

"It's a good question, I'm not sure," McLennan said when asked whether Rennie deserved an apology from Rugby Australia. "I think by his own acknowledgement he felt accountable to the scoreboard and we honoured the contract exactly as it was written to him. So I think all of those decisions are really difficult and I do feel sorry for him in that regard, because again it is so public for him as it is with Eddie and a lot of coaches and administrators.

"He was given three years. And what I'm trying to say is that it's not just me making captain's calls around RA, we'd discussed that in depth and we felt that we needed a change. Now Eddie didn't work out for a whole host of reasons, but I think what we've also been saying is the system needs to change, and I'm really determined to get that fixed."

McLennan continues to come in for heavy criticism following the Wallabies' first ever pool stage exit at the Rugby World Cup, which was followed by a mutual parting of ways with Jones, who now says he would be interested in coaching Japan despite repeatedly rejecting claims he had already spoken with his former Japanese Rugby Union employers about the Brave Blossoms job.

The RA chairman said he remains determined to finish the job he started, which largely centres around his pursuit of centralisation, and was confident the Wallabies "brand" would bounce back from its current low.

With the rugby community as a collective largely disenchanted with the game's administrators, any thought that it could grow beyond its seemingly shrinking reach appears far-fetched.

Asked whether the game had an image problem, specifically that a succession of senior administrators from The Shore School in Sydney, McLennan and current chief executive Phil Waugh included, might turn some people away, the chairman suggested that run of alumni was merely a coincidence. But McLennan noted the need for Australian rugby to broaden its wings - something he believes can be achieved with funds that will come first through a debt facility, and then the financials windfalls of dual World Cups and a British & Irish Lions tour in Australia over the next five years.

"I think we're trying to make it more accessible," McLennan said. "If you look at it, we're trying to get the game more on free-to-air [television], we're going to spread the World Cup amongst all the states; if you look at the teams, the Wallaroos and Wallabies, they all come from very diverse backgrounds.

"When we bring more money into the game, a key priority is going straight into grassroots; if you look at [2025 signing] Joseph Suaali'i, he was born in Penrith even though he went to Kings, but we want to tap the western suburbs of Sydney because that will deliver more winning Wallabies.

"I know it looks odd [the Shore link] when you ask those questions, but I can't do anything about what's happened in the past; but a lot of good players did come out of that school."

Jones last week pointed to RA's inability to secure the funds he says Australian rugby requires to improve across the board as a reason he had to walk away from the Wallabies, so too that he doubted the governing body could achieve alignment, or "optimisation of its top players" as the 63-year-old described it.

But McLennan said he was confident RA was making progress on centralisation with its key stakeholders, though time was of the essence.

"That's a great question and really important to the ongoing success and planning of the game, the states have got to agree to it... what we need to do is create a structure where we traffic all the players through a system in a more uniform way, and I think that's where we haven't performed as well as we should have. Again, look at Ireland [and their success]," McLennan told Stan Sport.

"I think we can do it, and there are good players coming through. And I think one benefit of what Eddie's done is he's introduced a lot of young players to big-time football through the World Cup.

"So we can do it, but we've got to get our skates on and we need the states to support us to be able to do it. And it is progressing, we've had some breakthroughs of late. But we've got to do, and we've got to do it cleanly and properly."