Rugby union: Wallabies manager at centre of Beale drama quits, citing stress

SYDNEY (AFP) - The Wallabies staff member who clashed with star back Kurtley Beale and sparked a major controversy over team management has quit, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) said on Saturday.

The ARU said Wallabies business manager Di Patston resigned from her position late on Friday, citing stress relating to recent events.

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said Patston's departure did not have an impact on plans for Beale to face a Code of Conduct Tribunal in relation to the distribution of what the ARU considers offensive text messages and images.

"We maintain the text messages and images were of such an offensive nature that they deserve to be fully and independently investigated, and Kurtley deserves an opportunity to present his position," he said in a statement. "We are responding in a way that any organisation should by taking this matter seriously."

Patston's resignation followed a sensational press conference on Friday when Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie denied having an affair with her.

She has been at the centre of controversy involving the Wallabies, after Beale was suspended for allegedly clashing verbally with her during a flight from South Africa to Argentina last week.

Beale has since faced a secondary investigation for allegedly sending inappropriate text messages relating to Patston.

The controversy took an unexpected twist on Friday when McKenzie denied rumours he was in a relationship with her.

"I've got a professional relationship with her. And I refute that," McKenzie told reporters, when asked if he had an "intimate" relationship with her.

McKenzie, who is married with children, defended Patston's appointment, which was made during his tenure, and said he did not believe it had caused "angst" in the team.

A date for the tribunal hearing has yet to be set, but is likely to be held in the week after the third Bledisloe Test, the ARU said.

McKenzie complained that the storm over Beale and Patston had "sidetracked" his team's preparations for next week's Test against the All Blacks in Brisbane.

The ARU said it will complete a review into the appropriate structure to support the Wallabies, with any changes to be put in place before Australia's tour to Europe next month.

"I have complete faith in our players that they will be focusing on the opportunity to play the number one team in the world next weekend," Pulver said.

"There's no denying we are the underdogs going into this match, but we have a head coach and team who will come together and work to achieve what some may think is mission impossible."

Australian media reports said the situation had become divisive in the Wallabies camp, which is also reeling from last week's 21-17 defeat - Argentina's first win in the Rugby Championship.

Beale's 47-Test career has been dogged by a succession of off-field problems and last year the 25-year-old was forced to undergo counselling and rehabilitation for his struggles with alcohol.

The NSW Waratahs playmaker is off contract for next season and has yet to agree on a new deal with the ARU.