No end to Twickenham trauma
June 12, 2011
Is Clive Woodward about to leave his Olympic dreams behind in favour of a return to the Rugby Football Union? © Getty Images
Let us end this circus. Sir Clive Woodward apparently wants the job, the Rugby Football Union are without doubt fans of the man and no one else in their right mind is going to throw their hat into the ring with the odds stacked in another candidate's favour. So let's stop this Twickenham two-step, draw up the mega-money contract that Woodward can clearly demand, put pen to paper and get to work. Simple.
Sadly no. This is the RFU remember - the world's richest union but one that is bankrupt of class when it comes to human resources. Just cast you mind back to the brutal exit of former coach Brian Ashton and more recently, their recruitment and endorsement of a new chief executive in John Steele only to show him the door when they decided they weren't such a fan of his methods after all. This Twickenham trauma unit has seen more drama than the nearby West Middlesex hospital and almost as many casualties.
As a result, the grey skies that descended on HQ as another dark day in the Union's recent history dawned on Friday show no sign of relenting. Despite being the outstanding option, Woodward is going to have to wait to join the blazer brigade that were largely responsible for his original exit in 2004. And despite reports to the contrary, you sense that Woodward would prefer to finish the job with the British Olympic Association and bathe in what is hoped will be the gold medal glory of his athletes at the Olympics next summer. The current turmoil at the RFU makes a switch, no matter how financially rewarding, a little less unlikely. And Woodward knows that if he really is the man for the job they will wait - but for how long?
However, can the RFU afford to allow one of the key executive positions created by Steele's recent re-structuring to remain vacant for what will be almost 18 months by the time the Olympic embers have died? No. And there is no chance of a job share until that time according to RFU chairman Martyn Thomas, which suggests they are likely to pressure Woodward to rejoin them after this year's World Cup.
But then again, the RFU are not averse to changing their mind on key decisions so maybe they will play the waiting game and run the risk of ridicule in the fear they may lose their man. There is also the chance that they may have to juggle personalities again following what is the resolution of what is the more important issue - that of the vacant chief executive post. Maybe, just maybe, they will let Woodward complete his Olympic dream and in the meantime hand Martin Johnson a new contract to stay in charge of the senior team and politely ask Rob Andrew politely to keep an eye on things elsewhere.
Thomas, who has done his best to play down suggestions he is the secretary of the Woodward fan club, has been an ever-present in the RFU's committee rooms during their most troubled times and by his own admission is partly to blame for the latest low. His power and influence extends beyond HQ as one of England's representatives on the International Rugby Board. He is also on the Six Nations Committee and is set to head up the company charged with delivering the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Add to that, temporarily at least, the role of chief executive that he will also fill on a short-term basis and you begin to wonder how he has time to run his farm?
Time is one thing the RFU do not have as they look to lay the foundations for what they hope will be a successful hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2015. The 'wretched four-year cycle' leading to that tournament, as Thomas recently labelled it, has not started well and without a chief executive, performance director and maybe a clue for the next few months, the chances of a home win diminish. Stability and preparation breed success and the RFU are playing catch-up rugby on both counts.
In a bid to rectify the situation, the RFU Council have tasked a group of rugby luminaries - Bill Beaumont, John Spencer, Jason Leonard, Richard Hill and Rob Andrew - with investigating how their rival Tier 1 nations manage their elite resources and structure their senior staff. The fact that they aren't already aware of how the likes of New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland, who are all currently above them in the world rankings, operate on a management level plays into the arrogant stereotype often associated with English rugby.
New Zealand have long been the best side in the world, which suggests they are doing something right, even if their balance sheet is not the most impressive, so you would have hoped that the powers that be at the RFU would have thought to investigate their success before now. The same with the Wallabies and Springboks as the days of regularly handing out lessons to the southern hemisphere giants are a thing of the first Woodward-era.
But before Beaumont and co have even had a chance to go to the pub and discuss their plan of action, Thomas has jumped the gun and revealed that a performance director will most likely be appointed before the end of the year. That assumption is another reason to believe that the RFU have already made up their mind as to who will take that job. What if the task group return with recommendations of further structural changes in the hope of replicating the All Blacks' recipe for success? Could another shake-up be on the cards?
And what if the new chief executive, be that former Quins chairman Malcolm Wall, RFU committee man Simon Halliday, Premiership Rugby chief Mark McCafferty or any other figure the press care to link with the role, wanted to shape the organisation their own way? Must they be employed on the condition that they work within the current structures and personnel? No serious candidate will accept such a working environment.
For supporters of English rugby and fans of an old fashioned farce it is set to be an enthralling few months with further woe on the horizon in the form of some "big financial losses" in the next few days. It never rains but it pours - thankfully the often-contentious agreement with old foes Premiership Rugby has five years to run. And let us not forget that this mess is playing out just a few short months before the 2011 Rugby World Cup, a far from ideal scenario and no wonder Johnson is keeping well out of it all.
Amongst all the indecision, there is one cast-iron fact and that is that drama and the RFU will go hand in hand until the organisation ditches the amateur tendencies that continue to plague it 16 years since the game turned pro. And the return of Woodward can be expected with just as much certainty. His unsavoury exit seven years ago appears to have been forgotten, as has the ill-fated Lions tour in 2005 and his dalliance with football. Woodward is a wanted man and as skilled as the former England coach may be, he will not have all the answers. Cue next crisis.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.