English Rugby
English clubs set to face down RFU
Chris Egerton
September 3, 2011
Martyn Thomas, Twickenham, England, September 7, 2010
Acting RFU chief executive Martyn Thomas is set to come under further pressure at HQ on Friday © Getty Images

The board of English rugby's governing body is set on a collision course with its clubs after the RFU's acting chief executive Martyn Thomas survived a vote of no confidence.

Thomas remains in position after winning the motion by 30 votes to 18, with five abstentions - hardly the "comfortable position" suggested by chairman Paul Murphy following the meeting.

Despite this, the RFU's council ignored legal advice issued to their directors and voted to release the Blackett Report for publication by 43 votes to 4. Bizarrely, the management board has accepted the report's findings and yet refused to resign - one of the report's central recommendations.

Thomas's threats of defamation against the report's author, Judge Jeff Blackett were finally withdrawn and the report will be mailed to the RFU's members clubs over the next few days. But despite numerous promises of future action made on Friday, the board remains in control and that fact is likely to trigger deep grassroots dissent, triggering a Special General Meeting this autumn.

The meeting of the 62-strong Council spent more than six hours discussing the report at Twickenham and its implications. In other moves, two non-executive director posts are due to be filled in line with Government recommendations and an independent audit similar to football's Burns Report will be carried out. This is likely to be led by Nigel Boardman, a leading partner with the city law firm Slaughter and May.

Acting Chairman Paul Murphy was also confirmed in the post until July of next year, while moves to appoint a permanent chief executive will be speeded up with a new man due in place before Christmas.

But the focus remains on the board's position as they try to recover from a calamitous summer in which several members of staff were sacked, chief executive John Steele was forced out, a tortuous and contradictory process of appointing a new performance director was halted without the post being filled and eventually, Thomas's resignation as chairman although he retains the post of acting chief executive and represents the RFU on the International Rugby Board.

The decision to refuse publication of Blackett's report into the whole business was merely an explosive post-script but has been a touchstone to those within the RFU who have become aghast at the turn of events.

Sources within the meeting suggested even the directors knew they would lose the vote to release the report, given the strength of feeling within council. Thomas was heard to say they he now had no problems with the report and claimed he had not had sufficient time to look at Blackett's report before August's Council meeting.

After Thomas was excluded during discussions on the motion of no confidence, Murphy claimed to council that Thomas was not the source for newspaper articles this week in the Mail, Telegraph and the Rugby Paper - all of whom drew a distinctly anti-Blackett line.

But an audit of how the RFU should work, is unnecessary according to one source. "It's not the systems which are in trouble, it's the people at the top. This chain of events would not have happened under previous regimes. Any heartfelt-sounding apology has been dragged out of the board kicking and screaming. I can't understand after reading the report, why thirty Council members voted to keep Thomas in place, let alone the five who abstained. The board have to go."

The move to split the as yet unfilled role of performance director into two - a professional rugby director and a rugby development director - also drew criticism.

Another source added, "We have just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds reorganising the management structure of the RFU - and quickly returned to the old way of doing things. What was the point in the restructuring in the first place?"

All these criticisms - as well as spending up to £70,000 on PR and legal advice in the last fortnight - is leading to a groundswell of deep grassroots dissent at the antics at HQ. The rules allow for 100 clubs to call for a special general meeting under a specific resolution, which must be held within sixty days. The resolution is required to pass by a two thirds motion. It's highly likely that the saga which has blighted Twickenham all summer long, may yet be concluded once the Rugby World Cup has been completed in October.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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