Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has denied being compromised in his position, adamant his relationship with team staffer Di Patston is purely professional.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has denied having an intimate relationship with team business manager Di Patston, adamant his position in charge of the Australian side hasn’t been compromised.
Australian rugby is in turmoil amid two investigations into misbehaviour by star player Kurtley Beale towards Patston – including allegations he circulated offensive text messages about her.
At a dramatic press conference at ARU headquarters in Sydney on Friday, the normally rock-hard McKenzie became agitated as he was bombarded with questions concerning his integrity in relation to Patston’s appointment, and whether he’d lost support amongst the playing group as a result.
Rumours have suggested McKenzie is in a relationship with Patston, who he previously worked with at the Queensland Reds and has since employed to tour with the Wallabies on the road.
Beale is facing the axe over his alleged actions, but the messy subplot suggests some players are disillusioned by Patston’s role in the team and McKenzie’s reasons for hiring her.
However, McKenzie hit back on Friday, insisting his relationship with Patston has always been professional and therefore not compromising his position as coach.
“I’ve got a professional relationship with her. And I refute (suggestions of an intimate relationship). There are people out there and that there’s some sort of campaign to impugn that’s (not) the situation,” McKenzie said.
“I don’t employ off LinkedIn. She has a very strong background. She is HR trained. She is a resource.
“I don’t believe her appointment has caused angst.
“I don’t make any apologies for trying to assemble people around me to get the job done.
“I don’t think I have a divided camp.”
McKenzie, on hand to announce his 32-man squad to face the All Blacks in the third Bledisloe next Saturday in Brisbane, said he was “annoyed” at innuendo surrounding his relationship with Patston.
He blamed the media for fuelling the fire when asked where he thought the rumours had spawned from.
“Probably because you guys keep writing about it,” McKenzie said.
“It’s all very convenient. All I can say is it’s false.”
The secondary investigation into Beale surrounds an alleged midair confrontation with Patston between South Africa and Argentina after which McKenzie abandoned a Wallabies training session in Buenos Aires to drive his distressed business manager to the airport so she could make an early dash home.
Patston has been on indefinite sick leave ever since.
McKenzie defended his choice to miss training and also responded to more serious allegations that he knew of the offensive text messages disseminated by Beale back in June.
McKenzie was emphatic in stating he didn’t learn of the Beale texts – which allegedly contain naked photos of a woman – until last week, directly following the midair incident.
“When I became aware of it I forwarded the information on,” he said.
“Then she obviously left because of the stress and the way she felt about the environment and then it was left to the integrity unit.
“I take welfare issues seriously.
“None of you guys were there to actually understand the context.”
McKenzie believes he can get his players to focus on the job at hand against the All Blacks, but admits issues will need to be urgently addressed when the squad congregates in Brisbane on Sunday.
“I’ve been open and frank in my time so if there’s an issue, obviously we’ll flesh them out,” he said.
“I’m not concerned about (losing the group).
“Things happen. That’s sport.
“We’ll talk about the way forward and what’s important.
“My door is always open.”