Tokyo: Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle was left visibly upset after a heated verbal stoush with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika at a cocktail function at the Australian embassy in Tokyo during the World Cup.
In an incident that was symptomatic of the degenerating relationship between two of Australia's highest-ranking rugby officials, multiple sources have told the Herald that former Wallaby Morgan Turinui was forced to intervene to stop Cheika and Castle tearing into each other in front of dozens of guests at the embassy in Tokyo's Azabu Juban district.
The Herald understands the argument was over Castle's insistence that the Wallabies follow through on their commitment to attend the September 25 function, which was held in the garden of the embassy on the Wednesday night before Australia's crunch pool game against Wales.
Embassy officials wanted the entire squad and staff to attend but, in the midst of the fallout from winger Reece Hodge's suspension in the days prior, and because the Wallabies were a few days out from the most important game of their campaign, Castle had offered a compromise that the team send four players and some other Australian rugby dignitaries.
Cheika continued to push back, unwilling to send any players, a scenario that would have been a major embarrassment for RA.
In response, sources told the Herald Castle went above Cheika and asked director of rugby Scott Johnson to marshal some players. Johnson did so, with Jordan Petaia, Folau Fainga'a and Christian Leali'ifano going along.
Later Cheika had a change of heart and, when he approached the players about going, was furious to find out that Castle and Johnson had gone over his head on the issue.
The function went ahead as planned, with chairman Cameron Clyne, a number of Classic Wallabies - including Turinui - Rugby Australia staff and other Australian rugby figures in attendance.
But tensions boiled over towards the end of the function when Castle approached Cheika to thank him for turning up and bringing the players under the circumstances.
Cheika took umbrage and the interaction escalated into a loud argument, with the coach unloading on Castle about her actions.
Turinui was forced to step in when no one else was willing to do so, asking them not to have the argument in public. Castle composed herself and stayed on for the remainder of the function.
Neither Cheika, Castle, nor Turinui would comment on the incident.
But in the wake of Cheika's resignation on Sunday and his comments about having "no relationship" with his chief executive, the incident sheds light on how high tensions had grown over the course of the campaign.
Sources inside RA and close to the organisation also indicated that while Cheika never publicly criticised the board's decision to appoint Johnson in the director of rugby role above him, plus a panel of selectors, it was a structural overhaul that dismayed him.
Cheika admitted as much on Sunday, the morning after Australia's World Cup campaign came to a juddering halt with a 40-16 quarter-final loss to England.
"Scott's a lovely bloke and I get on fine with him but I'm not really into that type of thing. I like to take responsibility," he said. "I found that a little bit difficult at times, yeah, but it's tough because you can't always do [it] how you want it. That is the way the role is set up and I know my place within that structure."
It is customary for representative sides to be received by the embassies or high commissions in the countries they tour.
The Wallabies have a longstanding tradition of visiting Australia House in London, as does the Australian cricket team.
This year during the Ashes the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, George Brandis, hosted the entire Australian cricket squad and a crowd of more than 300, which included former prime minister John Howard, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and other local and Australian dignitaries.
- SMH/The Age