Besieged Castle: Folau not only problem for Rugby Australia boss

Sydney (AFP) –


Australian rugby was already in crisis when Raelene Castle took over but the problems refuse to go away for the chief executive -- even after ending the Israel Folau anti-gay controversy.

Two years after Castle was tasked with steadying Rugby Australia's listing ship, Folau, a poor World Cup and the demise of a lucrative TV deal have detained her in choppy waters.

The New Zealander faced calls to step down on Thursday over her handling of the Folau case, which Rugby Australia settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

But she insisted she was the best person for the job as Rugby Australia heads towards 2020 seeking a new broadcast partner and an uptick in fortunes on the pitch.

"There's not a business leader that leads an organisation that I've spoken to that hasn't looked at this situation and gone, 'This is a very difficult thing'," Castle said, referring to the Folau case.

"Ultimately we've had extensive support from the rugby community and also from the wider business community."

Folau, the former Australia fullback, had launched a Aus$14 million compensation claim after his sacking in May for posting "Hell awaits" gays, as well as drunks, atheists and others.

While his comments drew outrage, it was a case that exposed divisions in Australian society after Folau won backing from conservatives who defended his right to express his religious views.

There were also commercial implications for Rugby Australia whose main sponsor, flag-carrying airline Qantas, warned the governing body to take appropriate action.

- 'They lost' -

Castle will be delighted to finally see the back of Folau, after admitting he had caused her the toughest challenge of her career when he posted similar comments last year.

But although settling the case avoided a lengthy and expensive court battle, the outcome still hit Rugby Australia in the pocket -- and Folau's beaming reaction spoke volumes about which side was the happier.

"A team of the sassiest spin doctors can't help Rugby Australia. They lost on Wednesday. Big time," wrote columnist Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian.

Castle will now be looking forward eagerly to the arrival of fellow New Zealander Dave Rennie, the highly rated new Wallabies coach whose signing was one of the brightest moments of Rugby Australia's year.

Rennie, who takes the reins in July, succeeds Michael Cheika whose stormy tenure ended with a record defeat to England in October's World Cup quarter-finals -- and a stinging parting shot.

"It is no secret I have no relationship with the CEO (Raelene Castle) and not much with the chairman (Cameron Clyne)," Cheika was quoted as saying by Australia's Fox Sports.

Rugby Australia will also have a new chairman next year after Clyne announced his departure last month, hitting out at media in his resignation statement.

Top of the agenda next year is negotiating a new TV deal, after talks broke down with long-time partner Foxtel -- reportedly leaving Rugby Australia looking to telco Optus.

Top of the agenda next year is negotiating a new TV deal, after long-time partner Foxtel reportedly threatened to sever ties -- leaving Rugby Australia looking at other options like telco Optus.

It means Rugby Australia remains mired in uncertainty, more than two years after the contentious axing of Super Rugby side Western Force triggered the departure of Castle's predecessor Bill Pulver.