A World Cup campaign punctuated by unsavoury headlines off the field and poor performances on it; a governing body lurching from one crisis to the next; a coaching team with a 50:50 record over five years; a system which seems incapable of producing the sort of rounded and exceptional players who can turn test matches. Something is rotten at the heart of England rugby.
It is exactly this sorry state of affairs which Fran Cotton and his panel have been asked to review. It is a relief that the RFU have finally appointed an independent view panel after a series of half-baked internal reviews, the conclusions of which have either been fudges or ignored. Cotton’s to-do is list a long one. This week we examine the issues he must address in terms of the management of the English game. Tomorrow, we turn to the playing side of matters.
How hard can it be to put a coherent, functioning management structure in place? Pretty damn hard if the RFU are anything to go by. Indeed I have had to rewrite this article several times over the past days as the conflicting announcements about the review itself piled up. The in-fighting surrounding the removal of John Steele and then of Chairman Martin Thomas who subsequently reappeared as acting Chief Executive, and the alleged coup by the clubs to reinstate Francis Baron have been nothing short of embarrassing.
But a key focus must be Rob Andrew. As Elite Rugby Director or whatever he was called, Andrew appointed Brian Ashton then recommended his retention only to be overruled. He then appointed Johnson while foisting upon him coaches that were not of his choosing. Having then been demoted under the proposed new structure, he announced this week that he had been made Professional Rugby Director even though the role is yet to be rubber stamped and that he was in sole charge of reviewing Johnson’s World Cup campaign. Thankfully, Cotton’s review will sit well above that. Besides it not actually being clear what Andrew does, his role and record over the past few years is symptomatic of the lack of accountability, vision and structure at the RFU.
Instead of shifting square pegs into round holes so as to not have to fire anyone, Cotton should be very precise in stating exactly what he recommends for the management structure and then the organisation should stop at nothing to get the best men for the jobs.
Looking Forward Not Back
If 2003 has been a millstone round England’s neck on the field, it has been an industrial-sized lead weight off it. All the political wrangling of recent months seems to revolve around opposing attitudes towards one man – Sir Clive Woodward.
John Steele lost his job after changing the job description for a role which had seemingly been made for Woodward. The clubs’ backing of Baron, a man with whom Woodward fell out at the end of his reign, must be seen in the same light. We need to move on. You cannot simply live in hope that history will repeat itself. If a role is announced, Woodward is interested and is the best man for the job then great. But there are plenty of other outstanding rugby men out there who must justifiably feel insulted that they are being repeatedly ignored in favour of a man who last worked in rugby six years ago and whose record since leaving the England job has been chequered a best.
Earlier this year Fran Cotton expressed his view that everything possible should be done to bring back Woodward. He has also, rather injudiciously given his new role, already condemned Johnson and the behaviour of the England team. Thomas meanwhile said that it would be possible for a temporary coach to be in charge for the Six Nations if the right man is not available. With the Olympics in August 2012, it does not take a genius to work out the motivation behind those comments.
We must hope that this review is open-minded and does not serve the selfish agenda of a few powerful men. Everything should be subjugated for the good of England rugby because at the moment it is a shambles.
Off The Field – On The Field
The mess that is the RFU has severely impacted on the performance of the England team. It has led to a coaching team who did not specifically choose to work together (although they have stuck together) overseeing a 50-50 record under two consecutive head coaches. It has led to a manager with no experience being appointed and to an apparent lack of discipline or respect for the coaching team.
This World Cup campaign has been the culmination of the muddled decision making at the heart of English rugby. The review cannot simply place total blame and responsibility in the hands of the players and coaches. If they do we can regard it as a self-interested washout. It must focus on the decisions which brought us to this position in the first place. It must go to the very centre of the running of the England team and all the decisions which affect it.
by Stuart Peel