Knives out for Andrew
November 20, 2011
Andrew flanker England manager Martin Johnson as he quit his post earlier this week © Getty Images
Rob Andrew's attempt to control the fallout from the departure of England manager Martin Johnson from his post earlier this week has only served to increase speculation regarding his own future within the Rugby Football Union (RFU).
The presence of the RFU's professional rugby director at Wednesday's press conference to confirm Johnson's decision to fall on his sword in the wake of a troubled Rugby World Cup campaign was clearly designed to ensure an official air to proceedings with Andrew quick to offer his own tribute to the England boss and demand respect for his decision. But he soon became embroiled in a debate about his role in a scandal-ridden World Cup at which point the cracks that have plagued English rugby's governing body surfaced in the face of one of their leading officials.
"I am absolutely not considering resigning," declared a man clearly-under pressure. This was not the composed and thoughtful Andrew we have become accustomed to since he took up his previous role as director of elite rugby in 2006. Maybe he was not expecting such a grilling or finger-pointing session or perhaps he had been riled by near-constant reports questioning his exact duties at HQ and his failure to take a more hands-on approach as England's tournament unravelled. Either way, Andrew was in a combative mood but instead of earning the respect of the media for his fighting qualities, he burnt some valuable bridges.
"Calling for my position shows a complete misunderstanding of my job," offered Andrew in another barbed reply, clearly irked by the media's refusal to accept his claim that only 20% of his job involved the England senior side and therefore he was not to blame for England's shortcomings. His uncharacteristic verbal assault also took on a more patronising tone at one point. "I'm not sure how many of you worked in business and how structures work, and how reporting lines work and how a multi-million-pound operation actually functions," he said in another blunt reply that will have been taken as an insult by many of those present.
Johnson could clearly sense his colleague was under the cosh and just as he would have done as a player, he came to the defence of the former England fly-half on more than one occasion with admirable interjections as part of a classy farewell clearly rehearsed over weeks of reflection since he returned home from New Zealand a little earlier than expected. In contrast, Andrew's delivery was not so praise-worthy and while he may well have expected some flak it was clear he was not prepared for the storm that he arguably instigated.
Andrew's decision to appear beside Johnson may have seemed like a good idea as he attempted to underline his own importance in the on-going re-shaping of the RFU but in hindsight he should have chosen to watch on like the rest of the rugby world - better still he should have fronted up last month as England's World Cup veered from one drama to another and brought some order to the circus. Instead of strengthening his position, his presence and contribution this week may well attract more pressure as the review process encompassing the World Cup woe and the RFU's structure and governance nearing a conclusion.
Had the RFU hadn't imploded in recent months then he would not have been required to put the official seal on Johnson's exit. Andrew took on the role of operations director earlier this year as part of the re-vamp orchestrated by John Steele during his brief stint as chief executive from which point the senior England side was no longer to be part of his remit with tournaments and competitions, referee and coach development, sports science, medicine and player welfare set to occupy his time. But the RFU's botched attempt to recruit a performance director meant Andrew was forced to combine his old and current roles in a bid to fill the void.
Further changes followed as the Union embraced the idea of scrapping the proposed post of performance director with Andrew taking on his latest job title - professional rugby director - that, in his own words, made him "managing director of the professional game from an RFU point of view." The latter was the title that accompanied his name in the controversial punishment handed down to veteran centre Mike Tindall earlier this month with the furore surrounding that belated attempt to stamp some authority sure to have fuelled Andrew's exasperation.
Twitter emerged as a battlefield in the defence of Andrew's role and reputation with the RFU's official account standing up for their man. Populated by the Union's communications department, they cited the notable performances of England's others sides - the Saxons, 7s, U18s and U20s - as indicators of success and were quite rightly shot down for using the results of those teams as evidence when Andrew refused to align himself with the senior side's results and shirked any kind of responsibility for their shortcomings on and off the field.
England manager Martin Johnson falls on his sword%]
But it is the criticism from another notable source rather than the largely anonymous micro-blogging site that will likely have a more lasting impact. Sir Clive Woodward's decision to break his silence on all matters England this week and go on the offensive in an apparent bid to prevent any further trauma is very telling. He has labelled the RFU as a "laughing stock" and questioned Andrew's reluctance to take any responsibility for any of the senior side's woes since taking office and in another stinging attack he insists Andrew is not fit to decide on who replaces Johnson. "The absolute key question for me is whether he has the skill set to appoint the new coach. Experience says he does not," the 2003 World Cup winning coach told the Sunday Times in a damning assessment of Andrew's ability to do what is arguably the most important part of his job.
Woodward may not have been involved with England since cutting his own ties with the RFU in 2004 but the thoughts of the only man to have steered them to the World Cup crown still carry some weight with the man himself, currently director of sport at the British Olympic Association, also long-linked with a return to the sport as the Union's performance director. His forthright views follow criticism of Andrew from a host of leading names in the wake of the Tindall's harsh sanction but some may say that with the performance director role now not on the table, Woodward's timely broadside is merely aimed at unsettling the man in possession of the one role he would return to the RFU to take up.
But Woodward's outburst is not without basis. Andrew has now overseen the departure of three England coaches in the form of Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton and now Johnson all of whom have failed to deliver the returns you would expect of a nation blessed with England's wealth in terms of playing and financial resources. England have won only 34 of 66 games since Andrew joined the RFU yet he still retains the trust of his paymasters to head up the panel charged with recommending the man to step into Johnson's shoes.
To his credit, Andrew has overseen the structures that have produced international success at lower levels of the international game although his greatest contribution to date is perhaps securing the long-term agreement with the country's leading clubs over access to elite players. But the sport is geared around the success of the senior side and just as changes are swift in coming when they underperform, members of the support system around them should also expect the boot should they fail to achieve the expected level of excellence.
As things stand in the ever-changing RFU landscape, Andrew is heavily involved in the World Cup post-mortem and the search for the new manager/coach. He led the recent internal review into the World Cup, billed as "the most comprehensive review ever" but many questioned how Andrew could be asked to pass judgement on his own performance and that of the elite department he heads up. He subsequently presented it findings to the Professional Game Board (PGB), featuring representatives from English rugby's stakeholders - the RFU, Premier Rugby and Rugby Players' Association, and a "robust, open and detailed discussion" followed where we are led to believe Andrew faced a tough examination of his role in the sorry six-week saga.
How uncomfortable it was exactly for those involved is not known but we may get a clearer picture when the PGB report to the RFU's management board on November 30. It is safe to assume that Andrew will not have recommended his own removal having refused to resign earlier this week, but his Teflon-like ability to avoid accountability for this regime, and those that preceded it, is sure to be tested further by the increasing number of people determined to make some of the mud stick.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.