English Rugby
RFU management board under the microscope
ESPNscrum Staff
June 15, 2011

Judge Jeff Blackett vowed to move "quickly and decisively" as he kicked off his review into hiring and firing of Rugby Football Union chief executive John Steele.

Blackett is determined to prevent the RFU's reputation from suffering any further damage in the wake of Steele's exit and has promised a thorough investigation that will analyse the events leading up to the RFU management board's decision to oust Steele at an emergency meeting last Thursday night.

RFU chairman Martyn Thomas explained Steele, who had only been in the post for nine months, had lost the confidence of the board and key stakeholders in the game. At a scheduled meeting the following day, some angry RFU council members considered a vote of no confidence in the board. An apology from Thomas appeared to prevent that but the council did request Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer, conduct a review and report to their next meeting, on July 10.

Blackett is chairing a five-strong panel, who met for the first time yesterday. The terms of reference have been agreed by the council. The review panel is comprised of RFU council members Geraint Ashton Jones and Malcolm Wharton plus Andy Reed, chairman-elect of the Sports and Recreation Alliance, and Vic Luck, formerly general manager of IBM UK.

The botched recruitment of a new performance director, which played such a key part in Steele's downfall, will also be under the microscope. Blackett's panel will be able to interview everyone who was involved in the process and he has sought agreement from Steele's lawyers that members of the board may disclose the reasons for their decision. The terms of Steele's departure are otherwise covered by a confidentiality clause.

Blackett said: "It is vital for the reputation of the RFU that we move quickly and decisively on this and that we are able to carry out an open and transparent review of the events of the last few months.

"Only when we know what happened can we ensure that lessons are learnt for the future good governance of the RFU. We owe it to our members and all those who play and watch rugby to ensure that we are diligent and thorough and I would like to thank the panel in advance for their involvement in what will be an intensive and busy programme if we are to come back to the RFU council in just over three weeks."

Meanwhile, the five-man task group who have agreed to report on the ideal job description for the performance director are unlikely to reach a conclusion in time for the next board meeting on June 29. Steele's failure to fill the post he created in January was the catalyst of his downfall. He cancelled an interview with Sir Clive Woodward and then moved to downgrade the position.

The RFU's board initially agreed to the proposal but then forced Steele into a u-turn after deciding the performance director should be responsible for the senior England team. In a bid to clarify once and for all exactly how the job should work, Rob Andrew was asked to head up a group that includes Jason Leonard, Richard Hill, Bill Beaumont and John Spencer. Beaumont is currently on holiday and it is likely they will not meet to begin discussions until a few days before the board meeting. The management board will receive an initial verbal update but it is likely a full report will have to wait until July.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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