Raelene Castle hits back at claims rugby heartland being ignored

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has hit back at claims her administration is "ignoring the foundations of the game", saying it is a "personal aim" of hers to generate more money for rugby's grassroots.

Castle was livid at criticism from Club Rugby TV boss Nick Fordham, who has the 10-year rights to broadcast Sydney's Shute Shield competition, that RA had abandoned rugby clubs around the country.

Grassroots: Sydney University star Nick Phipps celebrates winning this year's Shute Shield grand final.

Photo: AAP

She said the national body was overhauling its commercial model to drive revenue back to the community game but needed Super Rugby and the Wallabies to be strong to make that happen.

"RA does all it can to support [grassroots rugby]," Castle said.

"If we had a spare $10m floating around – which is my personal drive and aspiration, to deliver that additional commercial revenue – that's when we'll be in a situation where we can invest back in, in a more organised and planned way into grassroots in a grants point of view.

"But we're not there at the moment, so it's what we're working towards and one of the key pillars for me. Some of the suggestions are that we're ignoring it and not investing. If we had that spare line in our [profit & loss] absolutely we'll be delivering to it and that's a personal aim for me.

"We're driving the commercial platform at RA as hard as we possibly can because we do invest well in the Wallabies and our Wallaroos and sevens programs and we know we can do more in the grassroots space, but we have to generate that revenue first."

Fordham and business partner John Murray, who is also the president of Eastern Suburbs, accused RA of putting its revenue into Super Rugby and neglecting the Sydney clubs.

"My solution is for Rugby Australia is to finally realise the problem at the top is caused by ignoring the foundations of this game. It ain’t just about putting money into our broadcast. It’s about putting money into where it counts – in those clubs," Fordham said.

"It’s plain and simple. You make club land stronger and it goes up the chain."

Castle said she agreed but that it was not an "either/or" scenario.

"We're really pleased with the traction we're getting in club rugby and there is a bit of societal turn back to your local communities. I think that's big cities and traffic and travel. But it's not 'Shute Shield instead of', it's 'Shute Shield as well as'," she said.

"We need the Shute Shield to be successful and humming so that people build that connection with the grassroots and community rugby, but we also need Super Rugby to be successful, because that's where the revenue is generated from, and equally the Wallabies."

Fordham and Murray also criticised the Queensland Rugby Union for not doing enough to boost Brisbane's club rugby equivalent, the Hospital Cup.

QRU interim chief David Hanham defended the organisation's strategy.

"Our guiding principle is always to work with our clubs to drive as many fans as possible to get to the ground on a Saturday afternoon and initial feedback is that crowds and bar takings at our clubs were up this year," Hanham said.

"Since 2013 we’ve worked with our Premier Clubs in Queensland to continually grow and improve the promotion and coverage of Queensland Premier Rugby to a point where every minute of every game of this season was available free and to the device of your choice, wherever you were in the world. QRU retains the broadcast rights to Queensland Premier Rugby and our clubs are the beneficiary of that strategy."

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