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Eales and ex-PM on board for Aussie Rugby World Cup bid

SYDNEY (AP) — Ex-Wallabies captain John Eales and former Prime Minister John Howard have been recruited to a board created to drive Australia’s bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup. New Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan announced the advisory board on Tuesday, a day after formally taking over the leadership of the troubled union.

Eales, who won two Rugby World Cup titles, including one as captain in 1999, will join Howard and Australia’s former Governor-General Peter Cosgrove on a seven-member board that also includes leading business and industry executives.

McLennan said securing the 2027 World Cup was among his highest priorities. Australia co-hosted the inaugural Rugby World Cup with New Zealand in 1987 and hosted it again in 2003, when the Wallabies lost the final in extra time to England in Sydney.

“The 2027 Rugby World Cup is an incredible opportunity for rugby and for our country and we have signaled our intentions clearly by bringing together some of the greatest minds in rugby, politics, business, and the tourism sector to deliver a winning bid for Australia,” he said.

The 2027 and 2031 Rugby World Cup hosts are expected to be announced next year. Bids are expected from Australia and North America. Last year's Rugby World Cup in Japan was the first to be staged in Asia. France beat bids from Ireland and South Africa to secure the hosting rights for the next edition in 2023.

Rugby union in Australia has been mired in trouble across the last year on and off the field, leading to McLennan taking over as chairman after board wrangling and in the wake of Raelene Castle’s departure as chief executive.

Castle had been under pressure to retain her position in the face of multiple challenges, including a damaged relationship with top players, the lack of a new broadcasting deal, Rugby Australia’s poor financial position that only deepened during the coronavirus pandemic, and a letter co-signed by 10 former Wallabies captains demanding a change of administration because the sport had “lost its way.”

Rugby Australia secured a bail out from the sport's international governing body to ensure it navigated the pandemic, which has shuttered the game since March. Players and staff have taken pay cuts and there's been job losses at the national headquarters.

Australia’s 12-week, five-team domestic tournament, designed to fill the void following the abandonment of the five-nation Super Rugby competition in March, will kick off on July 3.

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