Rugby Union

Brumbies boss Michael Jones launches stinging attack on rumours about his future

ACT Brumbies chief executive Michael Jones has launched a stinging attack on the rumours about his future, declaring "I'm not going anywhere" and adding "if I go to war, it's going to get ugly".

Jones called on his detractors to put up or shut up, describing ongoing rumours as a cancer on the organisation and warning the Brumbies could cease to exist if it destabilises the club.

Brumbies boss Michael Jones has hit out at critics, declaring "I'm not going anywhere".
Brumbies boss Michael Jones has hit out at critics, declaring "I'm not going anywhere". Photo: Elesa Kurtz

There has been speculation around the capital about Jones' tenure but the Brumbies board denied this week it was set to part ways with the club's boss.

Jones called for calm and for rumours to stop to allow the focus to remain on the club's on-field performances, with the Brumbies playing the Cape Town Stormers in South Africa on Sunday morning (AEDT).

But he didn't hold back in hitting out at anyone attacking his job as he tries to unify the Canberra community to support a team capable of winning the Super Rugby title.

An ongoing Australian Federal Police investigation into transactions at the club between 2009 and 2013 has created friction between Jones and several Brumbies stakeholders.

University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker is considering lodging a defamation claim against Jones and the board but Jones dismissed any impending action.

Jones said he had not fallen out with the university or the ACT government and that there were "lies, myths and fairytales" being circulated about his role.

"If it persists, it's not a veiled threat it's a very real threat, I only know how to act and that is you can't fight half a war," Jones said on ABC Grandstand on Saturday.

"So if I go to war, it's going to be ugly and there are going to be a lot of people who get burned by it. I desperately don't want to do that, so all I'm asking is for the people out there who are having a hack at me, they know who they are, back off.

"And the people internally bowing to pressure ... I just hope they man up and we push on to do the best thing for the Brumbies. It's a great institution ... I want to see it continue and be better.

"I think this cancer that's currently affecting us is only bad for the Brumbies and unless it's turned around, is ultimately going to be terminal for the Brumbies. You just can't withstand this stuff perpetually, it will eat away at the organisation."

The Brumbies board held an unscheduled board meeting last week, prompting rumours about Jones.

Jones said he was an agent for change after stepping into the role as the Brumbies' third chief executive in two years.

Asked what the ramifications would be if Jones unleashed, he said: "It will have a major impact on Australian rugby, because if the Brumbies cease to be an entity, which is one of the very foreseeable outcomes – and has been a stated outcome of some of the people having a hack at us – if that is allowed to happen, the ARU will be in default of the SANZAAR agreement, because they are required to field five teams every week.

"And if this organisation folds and goes into administration the ARU is in default. They are big stakes games that a lot of these guys are playing, and it's fairly irresponsible of most of them to do it. They are looking at self-interest rather than the interest of the organisation. I'm trying to avoid the fight – I've been taking hits since December, I weathered the storm, and it's the same guys again."

Jones has been in the chief executive chair since the start of 2015. When asked if he was worried about Parker filing a defamation case, which stems from an email sent last year, Jones said: "Not a worry in the world.

"The fact the defamation letters were leaked to the media before they got to me, so what was the motivation behind that? When the remedy is to release the AFP documentation, as the only remedy, it doesn't really mean that it's defamation.

"...At the moment I'm doing nothing about it and if the other side want to keep pursuing it, they need to stump up or shut up. I've tried to be quiet and suck up a lot of pressure on behalf of the Brumbies to not be the focus of this, and I don't want to be.

"There are a lot of people who are nervous and uncomfortable [about the AFP investigation] and that's their problem, it's not my problem. I haven't done anything to justify any of that. They feel throwing mud at me is their best defence … I've got big shoulders, I've got to wear that."

The AFP investigation is ongoing and out of the Brumbies' hands, with Jones adding he wasn't on a crusade or targeting any individuals in handing documents to the police. He conceded he could have unintentionally made enemies through the investigation process.

Jones said the Brumbies "rightly or wrongly" invested $7 million in a new training base at the university before he was on board as chief executive.

"The Brumbies financial position is that they've made losses 10 of the last 11 years and to invest the large proceeds of their only asset [its Griffith headquarters] immediately into pre-paid rent for 30 years and to buy a new facility that they don't own any equity in, there is no recourse to ever get any of that money back, you have to [ask], is that a clever decision?

"I just look at that having worked as an investment banker and say hmm, that's an interesting call."

Jones said talk of angst in Brumbies' board ranks were 90 per cent rumours and instigated by people outside the organisation.

"I'm not going anywhere. We're in the midst of a good season and trying to get out the other side. Let's focus on the football and the good things we're doing in the community," Jones said.

"There are really good things happening in Brumbyland and it's just disappointing personally that there are a lot of detractors out there who just want to continually kick their sporting sides. I'm not sure what that psyche is and why people do that.

"...There are clearly issues from outside the organisation and there are people having a hack at me, everyone can see that in the paper. All I ask people is to ask, why is that happening?

"Given that we're commercially in a much better space, the team is firing, we have the absolute support of all the employees and the playing staff, the players, everyone is 1000 per cent behind me.

"I feel absolutely comfortable that we're doing a good job and everyone has to ask their own questions as to why and what is the motivation from outside the organisation having a hack at us."

The ARU commissioned Accenture to review each Super Rugby franchise and its operations. Jones said the Brumbies met with ARU boss Bill Pulver to show him the club's finances.

It comes at a time when the NSW Waratahs have just appointed a new chief executive, Queensland Reds boss Jim Carmichael has announced he will step down at the end of the year and the Western Force has a dire financial outlook.

"There's a lot of turmoil in Australian rugby, I'm not sure where that's going to end, but we're all working hard to make sure the off-field stuff matches the performance of our teams on the field.

"The Brumbies are  bit of a shining light in that respect, our commercial is stronger than almost all of the other franchises. Our team and our roster are very strong. Things aren't all bad at the Brumbies despite what people are saying.

"...I'm a change agent. That's what I came in here to do – to fix the Brumbies and put it on a better course. That's what I'm doing. If that gets people who have their own personal interests hurt by that, then I do not shy away from that and I do not apologise.

"I'm doing what has to be done for the Brumbies and if that gets some people's noses out of joint, I apologise for that to the fans who have to listen to this drivel all the time rather than talk about the football.

"I do not apologise that I have done the right thing 100 per cent. The problem is I'm fighting this battle with my hands tied behind my back because legally I don't wish to impugn anyone and I don't want to make enemies.

"I haven't named anyone and I haven't made any accusations public. All the stuff has been aimed at me, not me outwards.

"I'm being pushed pretty hard at the moment and there's always a straw that will break the camel's back. Maybe one day everyone will understand what's happening. But what I can hope now is that Brumbies supporters actually support the Brumbies tell those who are having a hack at us to shut the hell up and don't listen and focus what we're doing on and off the field to improve the Brumbies.

"...[Brumbies coach] Steve Larkham has been the strongest supporter of me and that gives me a lot of confidence to bear this stuff. That's what my job is. If it was easy, anyone would be doing it. It is tough and it is tough when you can't come out and say exactly what's happening because of legal reasons and stakeholder reasons."