Raelene Castle steps down as Rugby Australia CEO

Raelene Castle will step down as Rugby Australia's chief executive, after the board made it clear she no longer had its confidence.

Castle had come under intense criticism in recent times as the coronavirus cast Australian rugby into further dismay, prompting 11 former Wallabies captains to so-sign a letter calling for the board to be removed and for the game to set course under new leadership.

Castle informed Rugby Australia Chairman, Paul McLean, of her decision on Thursday evening.

"I love rugby on every level and I will always love the code and the people I have had the honour of working with since I took this role," Castle said. "I made it clear to the board that I would stand up and take the flack and do everything possible to serve everyone's best interests.

"In the last couple of hours it has been made clear to me that the board believes my no longer being the CEO would help give them the clear air they believe they need. The game is bigger than any one individual, so this evening I told the chair that I would resign from the role.

Castle assumed the role from former chief Bill Pulver at the end of 2018, when she was tasked with turning the game's fortunes around after the Western Force's axing from Super Rugby.

She later fell out with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, a public run-in during last year's World Cup coming out in the wash-up of Australia's quarterfinal exit as the coach aired his grievances after standing aside.

But it was the Israel Folau saga that really divided the game and, in turn, opinions on Castle's leadership, particularly after Rugby Australia opted to settle with its most high-profile player after originally tearing up his contact over repeated anti-gay slurs.

Castle's decision to take the code's broadcast negotiations to tender also drew criticism, particularly once the scope of coronavirus pandemic was realised and those discussions had to be suspended. Castle was however confident she had genuine tender interest from telco Optus, a situation that had caused major rumblings at News Corp, majority owners of Rugby Australia's current chief broadcaster, Fox Sports.

But the final straw appears to have been the drawn-out pay negotiations with the Rugby Union Players Association [RUPA]. The deal, which resulted in an average 60 percent pay cut for Australia's professional players, was at last struck on Monday afternoon following two weeks of, at times, tense negotiations.

RUPA repeatedly asked for "transparency" in the first week of the negotiations, claiming they were yet to receive the right financial documentation to conduct the talks in good faith.

RUPA president Damien Fitzpatrick stopped short of calling for a complete overhaul of the administration during a conference call on Wednesday but did echo his, and the wider support of RUPA, behind the letter co-signed by the 11 Wallabies captains.

Rugby Australia had also announced a $9.4 million deficit for 2019, which provided further catalyst for those pushing for a change in leadership to make their move.

A thankful Castle says she hopes rugby flourishes in the future.

"I wish the code and everyone who loves rugby nothing but the best and I would like to thank the people I work with and the broader rugby community for their enormous support," Castle said.

Castle is the second Australian sports chief executive to stand down this week following Todd Greenberg's parting from the NRL. Ironically, Castle had replaced Greenberg at Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs when Greenberg was promoted to the NRL's top job.

Former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns, who was originally overlooked for the job in favour of Castle in 2017, is among the frontrunners to assume the role.