Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle aborted a last-ditch attempt last year to add a social media clause to Israel Folau's contract that could have saved the game a month's worth of pain.
Castle met Folau in London in November, as the Wallabies prepared for their final spring tour Test against England. According to sources familiar with the meeting, she was intent on asking him to sign an addendum that should have been included in the original contract he had signed a month earlier.
Had the decorated fullback agreed, after RA consulted with the players' union on the addendum, RA would have had grounds to terminate Folau with immediate effect last month when he took to Instagram to claim gay people would end up in Hell.
The meeting took place a month after the Herald revealed that the two parties had patched up their differences after last year's anti-gay posts from Folau and committed to a further four years together.
Castle wanted to cement their relationship after a rocky year but, crucially, also to talk him around to agreeing to something someone had forgotten to include in the original contract Folau had signed on October 10.
In the end, the former Canterbury Bulldogs chief shelved the attempt and backed the handshake agreement she had with Folau, plus the regular protections afforded under the code of conduct, to safeguard the game from any further, damaging scandals involving its increasingly religious superstar.
The revelations come on the eve of the announcement of Folau's punishment for his high-level breach of the professional players' code of conduct.
The independent three-person panel of two of Australia's most experienced silks and a highly-regarded, veteran sports administrator, is widely expected to grant RA's request to rip up the dual international's contract.
That scenario would represent a major - if costly - victory for the organisation, which came under heavy fire for not acting quickly enough under the same circumstances a year ago, and even heavier fire over the past five weeks for acting decisively to end Folau's Wallabies and Waratahs career.
Folau is almost certain to appeal in that event, with a view to brokering a settlement for a portion of his multi-million dollar contract.
But Castle and her executive team, including head of player contracting Nick Taylor, will not escape scrutiny for their contributions to the crisis that has gripped the code since Folau's April 10 Instagram post condemning gay people to hell.
Their oversights appear to have left RA exposed and on shaky legal ground in the ensuing storm. The Herald understands Folau was the last signatory to his new contract with RA and NSW Rugby on October 10, but the next day received, via his manager Isaac Moses, a note asking that the new addendum be signed and returned as well.
That addendum was a social media clause, requiring that Folau's use of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms not be likely to, among other things, jeopardise the reputation of either organisation or bring into disrepute the wider game.
Moses advised Folau against signing it, meaning the organisation had no protection six months later when Folau, in his own words, received a message from God prompting his two inflammatory social media posts.
But the Herald can also reveal that at no point had RA sought the consent of the Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) on amending Folau's contract, a crucial step required under the collective bargaining agreement that governs the RA's interactions with its professional players.
The second error meant that even in the event Folau signed the modified contract, it would have been in breach of the CBA, also leaving RA in a vulnerable position.
"This should have been handled a lot more swiftly, first in terms of the contract, and then because instead of going to the code of conduct, they could have fined and suspended him and been done with it," former RUPA and Waratahs chief executive Greg Harris said.
Harris was in charge at RUPA the last time RA tried to sack a player. Kurtley Beale was fined $45,000 in 2014 for sending an offensive message referring to a female staff member at the Wallabies but was escaped suspension, let alone anything more serious.
Despite the controversial circumstances, RA, the Waratahs and Beale signed a new deal less than three months later. What was not disclosed at the time, however, was that they had inserted specific behaviourial requirements into the new contract. Moreover, Beale and his agent, Moses, had accepted them.
"Following that code of conduct process, when they offered Kurtley the renewal of a contract they had conditions in there pertaining to standards of behaviour that had to be agreed to by myself as the CEO of the players' association," Harris said.
"After discussing it with the players' agent, we agreed to accept those amendments to the standard player contract."
Beale went on to star in Australia's 2015 World Cup campaign under new Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and was a model citizen until he and teammate Adam Ashley-Cooper were stood down for the England Test match last November over a team protocol breach.
- SMH/The Age