English Rugby
Ryan lifts lid on RFU infighting
ESPNscrum Staff
December 1, 2011
Nick Royle breaks clear during England's defeat to Samoa in the Plate sem-final, HSBC Sevens World Series, Gold Coast, Australia, November 26, 2011.
England struggled in the opening weekend of the new HSBC Sevens Series © Getty Images

England Sevens coach Ben Ryan has admitted life has been tough in the headquarters of the Rugby Football Union amid the internal strife that has engulfed the organisation in recent times.

Ryan fears valuable Olympic preparation time has been wasted by the turbulence which engulfed the Rugby Football Union (RFU) after John Steele's departure as chief executive and has called for urgent action to be taken. The image of English rugby was damaged further by leaked reports into the failed World Cup campaign, which included damning testimony from members of Martin Johnson's squad.

Ryan agrees with the criticism, questioning the culture of the squad under Johnson and claiming England's basic skill levels were not high enough. The RFU has been riven by power struggles and political in-fighting for most of 2011, but hope today's board meeting and the imminent appointment of a new chief executive will be the first steps towards stabilisation.

And Ryan believes that cannot come soon enough. "It is always unsettling to have a lot of movement around your department or your team," Ryan said. "It hasn't been a particularly easy ride for anyone in the last year. There are lots of things that wouldn't necessarily be as good as you would have liked. The atmosphere once John Steele left took a bit of a battering and it is not going to solve itself overnight.

"I have been amazed that people have been able to get on with what they have to do." England, Scotland, Wales and potentially Northern Ireland must thrash out a formula for entering a unified Great Britain team into the 2016 Rio Olympics, but Ryan believes those plans have been stalled.

"Both ourselves and Scotland were minus a CEO for a while and that has meant that some of the finer points on how we put the GB side together has halted for a little bit," Ryan said. "We need a concerted and integrated approach to make sure the womens' and the mens' programmes get every chance so when we come to Rio qualification in 2014 nobody can look back on it and say they weren't well prepared.

"Time is running out pretty quickly for that. When the dust hopefully settles in the imminent future, everybody needs to get together and knock it all together pretty quickly."

England defend their title at the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens this weekend. Ryan is acutely aware of the perception of English rugby in the wake of the World Cup debacle and the anonymous critical feedback that was leaked to The Times.

The published player comments paint the picture of a dysfunctional squad, with some accused of being more motivated by money than ambition. Ryan was saddened by such reports and suggested some players had forgotten what really matters to them.

"Everybody matures at different rates and they sometimes make bad decisions and lose focus on the whole reason they are there in the first place," he added. "I am involved at age-group and the Sevens and it is pretty vibrant. Certainly the driving factor for all our players is not financial. I am lucky I have a group that are desperate to play for the shirt.

"What we want is to see that filter into the first team, for them to be a team that are world beaters."

Ryan's ambition this season is to get his sevens team to play rugby "like Barcelona play football" and believes a similar change is needed in the Test team. "Passing has not been taught as well as it should have been. We perhaps don't spend as much time on our game understanding as one or two other nations," Ryan said. "That is very correctable. It will depend who the head coaches are and who is appointed.

"At age-group we don't have thick playbooks. We work hard at simple frameworks and try to empower the players. That does not always mean you will be successful but it does make your players better. No doubt mistakes have been made. Hopefully everything that has happened now will help. Hopefully there are more coaches out there that feel the same as me."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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