England World Cup fallout
Hopley denies players driven by money
November 25, 2011
Hopley believes England's players have been "caught up in the darkest day for rugby union in this country" © PA Photos
Rugby Players' Association (RPA) chief executive Damian Hopley has jumped to the defence of England's leading players and insists they are not motivated by money.
Hopley offered a robust defence of those RPA members involved in the recent Rugby World Cup after three confidential reports into England's campaign in New Zealand were leaked and hinted that certain members of the squad were more concerned by possible monetary gain than the honour of international recognition.
Hopley remains livid that the RPA's report has entered the public domain and the players "caught up in the darkest day" for rugby union in this country, while revealing that an attempted injunction to prevent The Times from publishing further content was eventually abandoned for financial reasons.
Among the observations provided anonymously was that some players focused too much on pursuing financial rewards, with one senior squad member reportedly viewing England's inability to reach the semi-finals as "£35,000 down the toilet". Hopley admitted the remark was damaging, but insisted it was not representative of the real attitude of the squad.
"We dispute enormously the suggestion that the players are money orientated," Hopley told Press Association Sport. "These guys are professionals and clearly they want to maximise their income as much as they can, but to disparage them as money orientated and greedy is completely without foundation.
"It [£35,000 down the toilet] is a very unfortunate remark, especially coming in the aftermath of defeat in a World Cup where England didn't play to the best of their ability. I'm a rugby fan as well and I don't want to hear stuff like that. I want England to do well. Unfortunately that comment has been picked up and used across the piece, but it's not a fair reflection of the squad as a whole."
England captain Lewis Moody was criticised for showing a lack of leadership and for heading a dispute over the level of payments made during the World Cup. But Hopley said: "I would particularly like to defend Lewis Moody, who has been cast in a very unfavourable light. Lewis has played over 70 times for his country and has been an outstanding player across three World Cups.
"To label him as a money-grabbing professional is wholly without foundation and unfair. It's an easy target for people to talk about and there were conversations with the Rugby Football Union, but these go on in any walk of life. There were some outstanding issues around payment for the World Cup, but the reporting has been erroneous. To single out Lewis was completely unfair."
Hopley claimed suggestions of a lack of professionalism, as demonstrated by the drinking games that took place in Queenstown and the revelation that younger players were mocked by some senior squad members for trying too hard during pre-season training, are only "isolated incidents".
"These comments are very worrying," he said. "If there is some good to come out of what has been a very tough week for us all, we need to redefine the standards in how we operate. But these are isolated incidents. If you asked guys after any previous World Cup, they'd all have come out with similar comments.
"All the interviews were done in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup, so there was a lot of emotion. Many players coming back sensed the real disappointment among England rugby fans at what had been portrayed as a very disappointing and unprofessional campaign. There were things that were blown out of all proportion, but it's important that everyone fronts up and we've tried to be very honest and candid in our report.
"It's very important, at a moment when people are questioning the culture and leadership in the game, that players put their hands up and are accountable."
Hopley admitted the reputation of England's players had been battered by the content of the report, but is adamant the game will recover swiftly. "We've taken a body blow, but there's a Six Nations around the corner," he said. "I've no doubt there is some outstanding talent coming through. I'm very optimistic of where English rugby is going. This has been a dismal campaign and I think it's important we move forward. I'm confident this will prove to be a poor chapter in English rugby, but one we can move on from."
Hopley branded the leaking of the confidential RPA report to The Times as the sport's lowest point in this country. "We were absolutely furious with what had come out," he said. "The players had entrusted us with their confidence to come out with some frank and robust opinions about the World Cup. We entered into the review process with the utmost faith in the system, but more importantly the players have been let down and their confidence breached. The players have been caught up in the darkest day for rugby union in this country."
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