English Rugby
RFU faces potential crisis
ESPNscrum Staff
July 10, 2011

Judge Jeff Blackett's internal review into the departure of former RFU CEO John Steele will reportedly call for RFU chairman Martyn Thomas to step down.

The Rugby Football Union's 58-man council gathered at Twickenham on Sunday morning for a breakfast meeting which could plunge the governing body into fresh turmoil. The RFU's disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett was publishing his internal review into the way John Steele was ousted from his post as chief executive last month.

It is believed that Blackett's 52-page report recommends that chairman Martyn Thomas and the majority of the board stand down. Blackett led a five-man review panel at the request of the council and is understood to be damning in his criticism of the RFU's governance.

The council must decide whether to act on Blackett's recommendations and leave the RFU rudderless - under the leadership of president Richard Appleby and a new skeleton board - just seven weeks before the World Cup. A vote of no confidence in Thomas and the board would require a two-thirds majority.

Thomas faced down rumblings of a no-confidence vote at the last council meeting, which was held just hours after Steele's departure had been confirmed in a late-night coup, and he took over as acting chief executive. At the same meeting, Blackett was commissioned by the council to compile a report into the process of Steele's hiring and firing and covering wider governance issues at the RFU.

Steele was ousted after just nine months in the job after losing the confidence of Thomas and the board. Central to Steele's downfall was the RFU's botched attempts at recruiting a performance director.

Chaired by Blackett, the review panel also included two members of the RFU council in Geraint Ashton-Jones and Malcolm Wharton, and two independents, the former MP Andy Reed and former IBM UK general manager Vic Luck. The panel interviewed over 65 key figures and took on board the conclusions of an earlier review of the performance director recruitment process, conducted by the RFU's chairman of governance Peter Baines.

RFU Timeline:


June - John Steele appointed as Rugby Football Union chief executive, succeeding Francis Baron.

September - Steele embarks on what he described as a "comprehensive review" of the RFU.


January - RFU management board approve Steele's shake-up plans, which include a new rugby department of three areas to see recruitment of performance, operations and development directors.

March - Rob Andrew, who had been Twickenham's elite rugby director, is appointed operations director and Steve Grainger development director, while England's 2003 World Cup-winning mastermind Sir Clive Woodward remains firm favourite to fill the performance director role.Interviews, though, for performance director job are then delayed.

April - RFU management board approves job description changes to performance director position, downgrading it by not including overseeing of England team.

May 12 - Job description decision is then reversed, which sparks a "clear the air" meeting between Steele and management board chairman Martyn Thomas.

May 19 - Woodward formally withdraws from performance director process and underlines commitment to his current job at the British Olympic Association.

May 25 - Peter Baines, chairman of the RFU's governance committee, leads review into handling of the recruitment process for performance director job.

June 9 - Steele resigns as chief executive after just nine months in charge following emergency board meeting.

June 15 - RFU inquiry into circumstances surrounding Steele's exit begins. RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett heads a five-man panel with a wide-ranging brief.

June 29 - Rejigged RFU management structure confirms Thomas to continue as acting chief executive, with Baines as board chairman.

July 10 - RFU council members gather at Twickenham to digest five-man panel's review amid reports that Blackett has recommended that Thomas stand down and the majority of board members resign.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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