Is Nigel Melville the right man to replace Rob Andrew at the RFU?
May 1, 2016
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The RFU wasted little time in announcing Rob Andrew's successor as director of professional rugby on Friday afternoon. In fact, there were just 27 minutes between confirmation that Andrew would be stepping down at the end of the season, and the announcement that Nigel Melville would be replacing him.
You get the feeling Melville is returning from the U.S. -- and his role as CEO of USA Rugby -- at just the right time. There is a smile back on the face of English rugby and fans will hope the former Wasps and Gloucester boss can help ensure the Eddie Jones era continues as it has begun.
Melville will be faced with a sizeable remit when he arrives at Twickenham from Colorado in the summer, taking on the responsibilities of Joe Lydon, the former head of international player development, as well as those that formed Andrew's role.
But the 55-year-old boasts a CV that suggests he has all the capabilities to be a success.
As a coach in the Premiership he collected trophies with both Wasps and Gloucester, and although his last direct involvement with English rugby came a decade ago, in that time he has built a reputation as an astute administrator.
Indeed, he will leave USA Rugby as the longest-serving CEO in the organisation's short history and with a potentially substantial legacy.
When Melville arrived in the U.S. there were around 80,000 registered players across the country. In the decade since, that number has grown by around 50 percent, while two million children aged between six and 12 are currently engaged in the Rookie Rugby programme that the 55-year-old initiated.
It is easy to see, therefore, how rugby union has become the fastest-growing team sport in the vast country, with such numbers hinting at a healthy future for the sport in the States.
The new professional league that kicked off last month will only help solidify rugby's standing in the U.S., while the deal signed between NBC and the Aviva Premiership in March indicates there is an audience for the game, too.
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Indeed, Melville has proven himself to be fairly innovative during his time in Colorado. He was not afraid to schedule a match between the USA Eagles and New Zealand outside of the international window, and was vindicated by the 61,500 crowd that attended at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Australia and Scotland have also visited America to play the Eagles in the last two years, while Italy will be the opponents in San Jose this June. England, meanwhile, trained in Denver ahead of last autumn's Rugby World Cup.
The thought of the international showpiece being held in the States is no longer a ludicrous notion.
In the shorter form of the game, Melville has capitalised on America's love of the Olympic Games to help transform the Eagles Sevens side from part-timers on the World Series to genuine medal contenders in Rio.
It is clear, therefore, that he has the credentials for a job in which he will oversee the RFU's relationship with Premiership Rugby, its English Qualified Player scheme, the Elite Player Squad, the English academy system and international player development.
The length of time he has spent away from the English game could be a potential stumbling block, but Melville has not been a complete stranger. Moreover, Andrew's decision to continue negotiations for the new heads of agreement deal will help.
But Melville's return home will certainly bring with it an increased level of scrutiny. Rugby has made undoubted strides in America over the last decade, but some targets -- not least those concerning the national team and their performance at World Cups -- have been missed.
It is in his favour then that Jones has started so convincingly as England head coach, and the pair's relationship will be pivotal to his long-term prospects.
If Melville can produce a similar arc of development in England as he did in the U.S. and ensure that Jones -- and his successors -- have the tools for success, then the RFU will have acted swiftly, yes, but they will also have done so decisively.
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