The fresh-faced RFU
December 1, 2011
Stephen Brown and Ian Metcalfe address the media © PA Photos
The new, fresh face of the Rugby Football Union emerged at Twickenham on Thursday or, more accurately, faces.
Ian Metcalfe, chairman of the Professional Game Board, has actually been around for some time but, in the wake of the mayhem left by every aspect of England's truly shocking World Cup performance, he is suddenly the power broker and alongside him a real unknown figure but someone who could become very familiar over the next few months - Stephen Brown. The acting chief executive only had 24 hours in the hot seat when he faced the press yesterday.
The good news is that they struck exactly the right tone and on an important first night did not fluff their lines. Metcalfe was particularly impressive. He was suitably contrite and measured in his opening soliloquy - delivering a plan that, for once, appeared to have been thought through instead of cobbled together on a fag packet minutes before going on air.
The internecine rivalry and bickering that has ripped the Union apart over the past few weeks and has made it a laughing stock across the sporting world was acknowledged but put firmly in the past. The former chairman and acting chief executive, Martyn Thomas, has finally exited stage left - still proclaiming his innocence and hoping forlornly to persuade people he was actually not a villain at all, just grossly misrepresented - and will not be returning for an encore.
Amazingly though, Rob Andrew has survived - Teflon is obviously even more durable than the makers claim. We have heard a great deal about the superb work he has done in brokering the deal between the Union and the professional clubs and the making it work so he will now be known as professional rugby director in charge of all professional rugby operations 'except the senior side.'
Frankly, I am amazed. He may well have done a marvellous job behind the scenes but the New Zealand fiasco happened when he was in charge of the national team and everything he did smacked of indecision sometimes followed by massive overreaction as in the Mike Tindall fiasco.
Tindall might have been his own worst enemy - again I'm amazed there is not some sort of crash course on how you are expected to behave when you marry a Royal - and would have defused much of the anger and let-down felt by the England supporters but a £25,000 fine and the spiteful demotion from the Elite Player Squad were totally over the top reactions by an organisation wanting to appear strong. Too late - the damage was done.
Tindall might have let himself and his team-mates down but as far as we know he broke no rules so why was the fine more than for Manu Tuilagi jumping in the harbour? It does not make sense.
Metcalfe refuted suggestions that Andrew had been demoted, of course, but his job has been redefined yet again and many people would love to know whether his remuneration package has also been re-examined to reflect the more limited scope of his duties. Interestingly, there is one little caveat - Andrew's department will be subject to an independent external review. When that is apparently the one department of the RFU that appears to be working you have to ask why?
Above all this was a measured report from the PGB and their discussions had covered every aspect of the failings in the now thoroughly discredited England structure. I think we can now, finally rule out any return of the fairy godmother, Clive Woodward, for example.
Nick Mallett, who we are led to believe is now favourite to take over the head coach role, has already made it very clear he does not want a performance director in between him and the chief executive and it does seem unnecessary.
They also seem to have concluded that part of the problem with the Johnson regime was this vexed question about how much he was head coach and how much team manager. Whenever we saw Johnson he was in a suit. That was completely at odds with his sleeves up, practical man image. The new man will be in a tracksuit we are assured and there will be a separate 'senior figure' as team manager.
That will also be a key appointment. Allusions were made to Alan Phillips' role in the Welsh set-up and Darren Shand's with the All Blacks. If my understanding is correct Phillips is the Mr Fix-it for everything surrounding the team while Shand has a more senior role and acts as something of a mentor to the coaches and players - a sort of elder statesman. England probably need more of a Shand.
The one bit that I find ludicrous is this preoccupation with security. It should not be necessary - a dedicated group intent on winning a World Cup, with a strong coach and manager should be able to police themselves. But that's where we came in!
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh