English Rugby
Steele steps down from RFU post
ESPNscrum Staff
June 10, 2011

John Steele has left his position as chief executive of the Rugby Football Union in the wake of the botched recruitment of a new performance director.

His decision to part company with English rugby's governing body followed an emergency RFU management board meeting at Twickenham on Thursday night to debate the flawed process that saw the job description repeatedly changed and leading candidate Sir Clive Woodward distance himself from a possible return to HQ.

"The Rugby Football Union (RFU) Board of Directors can confirm that John Steele has left the Union with immediate effect," the RFU Board said in a statement. "At the current time there is nothing more we can add while discussions are ongoing and we will update further as we are able."

The latest dramatic twist in a turbulent few months for the RFU comes despite the management board offering their "full support" to Steele last month. However, relations between senior figures on the board have reportedly deteriorated beyond repair since and the RFU are currently meeting to agree the terms of his exit.

Steele's departure, just a few months after his high-profile re-structuring of the RFU and less than a year since he joined the organisation, is set to plunge the union into a state of crisis just three months before the start of England's Rugby World Cup campaign.

Just ten days ago, in response to fierce criticism of his handling of the appointment process, Steele sounded a note of defiance over his ability to continue as chief executive. "Yes, there has been this bump in the road but it doesn't mean that what we put in place in terms of our plans for the future isn't still as valid as it was six months ago," he said. "In fact, that last six months have shown me even more the need for change. We need to work differently and I have been brought in to drive that change, and that is exactly what I will do."

On May 25 the management board accepted their handling of the episode, which undermined Steele's position and left the union facing claims of amateurism, had "not shown the RFU in the best light". The RFU had earlier changed the job description for the performance director role twice in the space of 48 hours. Woodward then ruled himself out of the running.

"This has been a testing time for the RFU but the key to a strong organisation is how it responds in difficult times," said RFU Management Board Chairman Martyn Thomas.

The board signed off three different versions of the performance director job description, dating back to January, but still claimed not to fully understand how the job would work. The bone of contention within the RFU has been whether or not the performance director should sit above the England manager in the chain of command and influence the senior international team.

The initial job description for the performance director role was drawn up in January as part of Steele's management restructure. His proposal, backed by the management board, outlined the successful recruit would be in charge of the whole England structure, from the senior team down to age group and academy level.

After a shortlist of three candidates had been drawn up and an interview day arranged, Steele decided to remove all direct influence over the senior England team from the role. Steele's new plan was again backed unanimously by the management board - but he then suffered the embarrassment of having it overturned by a vote of 4-3, with one abstention, at an emergency meeting just two days later.

The board claimed they had failed to understand exactly what the ramifications would be of watering down the role. Many senior figures at Twickenham feared the new job, with a reduced sphere of influence, would not be attractive to a leading candidate like Woodward.

Until the wrangling over the performance director's role began, Steele was seen to have been performing solidly. He spent the first six months of his reign conducting a review of the union and then instigated a management restructure that was well received.

His desire to put rugby back at the heart of the union - he felt it had become too money orientated - also hit the right note for many. However, his demise has been messy and a PR disaster for the RFU that could deter leading candidates to succeed Steele from applying.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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