Australian Rugby Hires Bill Pulver as CEO to Kick Off Lions Year

The Australian Rugby Union hired Bill Pulver as its chief executive officer, ending its three-month search to find a replacement for John O’Neill as the nation prepares to host the British and Irish Lions.

Pulver, who has served as an executive of companies in Australia, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. including a six-year stint as CEO of market research company NetRatings Inc., will start the job Feb. 1, the ARU said. O’Neill stepped down in October after filling the role for 14 of the past 17 years.

“I’m 53 years old and I think I’ve finally discovered what I wanted to do with my life,” Pulver said at a news conference in Sydney. “I have for the last 20 years been a chief executive working in a very diverse range of industries and now I feel incredibly privileged to be able to take those CEO skills and apply them to the game I love.”

Pulver, whose son Angus played on the Australian Schoolboys team last year, takes over as the country’s top rugby administrator as the sport gears up for its biggest exposure outside of a World Cup year with the Lions scheduled to tour in June and July. The combined team, which is typically accompanied by tens of thousands of touring fans, last visited Australia in 2001, when the Wallabies won the series 2-1.

Pulver said he plans to collaborate “relentlessly” to ensure the sport achieves its objectives including Australia becoming the No. 1-ranked team in the world.

Common Goal

“The game’s an international game,” ARU Chairman Michael Hawker told reporters. “It’s also a game which is becoming more complex and there’s a lot of stakeholders involved. He’ll bring rugby together and it’s critical that we have everyone working towards a common goal.”

The Wallabies, world champions in 1991 and 1999, are currently third in the International Rugby Board’s rankings behind the world champion All Blacks and South Africa.

“Frankly, I think it’s probably where we deserve to be,” Pulver said. “New Zealand have set the benchmark for international rugby over the last couple of years. We clearly aspire to that No. 1 position and there will be a real sense of urgency about achieving that.”

Robbie Deans, whom O’Neill hired as the Wallabies’ first non-native coach in 2007, will continue in the role until at least the end of this year, Pulver said. The New Zealander’s position has been the subject of speculation in the Australian media after the team lost four of its 10 Tests in 2012, including a first home defeat to Scotland in 30 years.

“Robbie will be coaching the Wallabies right through 2013 and at that point we’ll then be considering the responsibilities for the coach through to the World Cup in 2015,” Pulver said.

Currently the CEO of linguistics technology company Appen Butler Hill, Pulver made national headlines in 2011 when his then-18-year-old daughter Madeleine was held as a hostage with a fake collar bomb at the family’s Sydney home.

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