Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark has accused Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan of isolating himself from his own Super Rugby clubs after his threat to walk away from Super Rugby Pacific in 2024.
McLennan said last week that "all bets were off" from 2024 onwards in relation to Super Rugby Pacific, but a frustrated Clark shot back on Tuesday, insisting that the 12 clubs – five in New Zealand, five in Australia, plus Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua – remained a united bloc with no intention of being split up.
"All 12 clubs are in the same position," Clark said on Tuesday after announcing Clarke Dermody as the Highlanders' new head coach.
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"Comments like Hamish's in the last week have harmed all 12 clubs and the future.
"At the end of the day, it's a little bit sad because it's pretty obvious it's a money grab.
"But, from our perspective the 12 clubs are fully committed to making sure this is the best competition that can be."
Super Rugby Pacific had a challenging start to life as COVID-19 heavily disrupted the early rounds, forcing tournament organisers to redo the schedule a number of times and keep the New Zealand and Australian sides apart for the first part of the campaign.
Momentum built in the second half of the competition and the playoffs were all tough, entertaining affairs – albeit with frustration evident in Australia that the finals series played out largely on New Zealand soil, with only one fixture in the quarter-finals onwards taking place in Australia.
The two new sides both performed credibly, and Stuff understands that World Rugby is satisfied with its investment in Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua after large numbers of their players made the Manu Samoa, Tonga and Fiji test squads for the Pacific Nations Cup in July.
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Clark said he had seen enough to suggest that Super Rugby Pacific could develop into a strong competition – if Rugby Australia stopped "knocking it all the time."
"I think it showed this year with the Australians being a lot more competitive and with the influence of the two Pacific Island teams, that this can be an exciting competition," he said.
"So our focus as the 12 clubs is to ensure that we get our national unions to get behind it instead of knocking it all the time, and making sure that we've got a concerted effort to make this the best competition that it can be.
"That's what the 12 clubs want."
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