Clock is ticking for Andrew
November 25, 2011
Rob Andrew is a man under pressure © Getty Images
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"I am the elite rugby director and I run a big department," insisted Rob Andrew earlier this week, clearly forgetting his job title that, according to the latest releases from the Rugby Football Union's over-worked communications department, is in fact 'professional rugby director'.
But he can be forgiven for an oversight amid the chaos that has engulfed HQ in the wake of a World Cup campaign blighted by controversy and the subsequent fallout that has reduced the RFU to a laughing stock.
Even the much put upon media team at Twickenham have been caught up in the confusion. A Tweet from their official account earlier this week declared: "England attack coach Brian Smith has today stepped down from his position," only for the premature post to be withdrawn minutes later. Too late. The official confirmation came later in the afternoon.
Add to this the farcical claim by RFU chairman Paul Murphy, following the announcement of the RFU's latest financial results, that "it is clear that the union and its staff have been operating at the top of their game" and the admission by Andrew a couple of days later that English rugby had hit "rock bottom, the lowest of the low" and you have yet more cause for concern.
These relatively minor mishaps, lost to many in the wave after wave of World Cup-related woe, underline the disarray that continues to plague English rugby and sadly for the RFU and every fan of the game in England, there is no end in sight.
Things looked so much brighter a year or so ago when John Steele took up his post as the Union's new chief executive and set about re-vamping the organisation. The failure to recruit a performance director soon brought an end to his brief tenure and former chairman and acting chief executive Martyn Thomas will soon follow while England manager Martin Johnson and attack coach Brian Smith have also been shown the exit. England centre Mike Tindall was another high-profile casualty with the veteran given the boot and handed a hefty fine - which he has appealed - for his part in the World Cup debacle.
But the media frenzy, fuelled by the leaking of the Professional Game Board's review into the World Cup to The Times, shows no sign of relenting with Andrew the centre of the vast majority of the venom. He simply refuses to bow to widespread calls for him to take accept responsibility for England's woes, insisting that they represent only 20% of his job. He has been happy to stress that the England team was Johnson's domain while his colleagues have pointed to the success of the other teams under his remit, the Saxons and age-grade sides. Such double standards, that Andrew may well have been oblivious to, do not reflect well on anyone involved.
Andrew has now overseen the exit of three England regimes - those orchestrated by Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton and Johnson - but continues to survive, perhaps aided by the general confusion as to what his exact role and responsibilities are. Andrew may chose to paint it his way, but he was Johnson's boss and his absence from the coal face during the World Cup, until England attempted to draw a line under their premature exit, and failure to front up as events conspired against them was a mistake and has all but sealed his fate. There can be no more dodging of bullets.
Johnson may well have demanded the space to do things his way as part of his own World Cup assault and if that is so then Andrew's willingness to grant him that freedom is commendable to a point but it now ranks as a foolish gamble. He is tarnished by the failure of those who report to him and try as he might he has no hope of ridding himself of stench that continues to emanate from a World Cup that promised so much but delivered little. Andrew may not have recommended the appointment of Johnson back in 2008 - having favoured the retention of Ashton - but not even that fact can safeguard him from the failure of the senior side to capitalise on their position of strength in terms of playing and financial resources.
England's form on the field may not have plumbed the depths but when considered against the squad's shortcomings off the field then there should be very little wriggle room for all the leading protagonists. Those rules apply for players, coaches and those officials charged with creating the best environment for them to perform. Such a series of damaging events point at only two possible outcomes - walk or be pushed. Johnson chose to walk away in a dignified exit - something that may soon be beyond Andrew.
A new chief executive, who we are led to believe will be appointed by December 14 with a start date set to follow in the New Year, will surely be wary of taking on the role with the union as a whole still suffering from a World Cup hangover. A demand for a clean break from the old regime would be quite understandable from anyone of such seniority looking to stamp their own mark on the RFU, leaving Andrew facing the prospect of having to justify his position to not only the media but his immediate boss.
That void currently above Andrew, with Thomas still in his post until December 16 and chief financial officer Stephen Brown set to step in at that point, has given him a lifeline of sorts with the RFU hierarchy perhaps grateful for his fire-fighting qualities as they look to bridge the gap. However, this week's RFU management board meeting, where Andrew will present the findings of the Professional Game Board's review into the World Cup, looms as a key battleground.
It is here that the remaining faith in Andrew will be truly tested and where the writing may appear on the wall. It is clear from the highly-damaging leaks from what was supposed to be a confidential review process - conducted by the RFU in conjunction with the Rugby Players' Association (RPA) and Premiership Rugby - that certain stakeholders within the game are determined to undermine the current regime and hasten Andrew's exit. Speculation is rife as to the source of the leak with an independent investigation already on the case. While the RPA cry foul at the embarrassing nature of the disclosures from players who spoke on the condition of anonymity, others point to unnamed individuals inside the RFU and Premiership Rugby's alleged attempts to claim a greater say in all things England. All this goes on in a multimedia arena seemingly bereft of support for Andrew.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that there will be no end to the turmoil until Andrew makes way by either stepping down or being shown the door. The elements driving that revolution may be just as undesirable and require just as brutal surgery but that is a fight for another day.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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