Crucial summit for English rugby
December 22, 1999

English rugby union bosses will assemble at Twickenham today for arguably their most important meeting since the sport turned professional.

The Rugby Football Union's management board is set to discuss a variety of major issues that have surfaced during recent days and weeks.

Management board members will debate Rob Andrew's blueprint for the English professional game's future, a plan that includes playing domestic league rugby in one 22-game block followed by the European Cup and Six Nations Championship, moved from February to an April start.

Also on the agenda is motor racing millionaire Tom Walkinshaw's British League proposal, a 16-team franchised competition featuring 10 English sides, four from Wales and two Scottish.

Additionally, discussions are planned about the Tony O'Reilly bond initiative a scheme scheduled for debate by the four Home Unions in London last night and which could raise anything between £250million and £500million through support from City investors.

The management board's other main pre Christmas topic is Twickenham's feasibility as a major athletics venue, principally for the 2005 World Athletics Championship, given on-going uncertainty surrounding Wembley Stadium development plans.

Meanwhile, the RFU announced yesterday that John Mitchell is to quit as England's assistant coach following the inaugural Six Nations Championship this season.

The 35-year-old All Black has accepted a new job in his native New Zealand rugby development manager with Waikato.
Mitchell captained Waikato's National Provincial Championship-winning team in 1992 and led New Zealand's unbeaten midweek side during the All Blacks' British tour a year later.

His decision is not a surprise, given Mitchell's determination to carve out a successful coaching/managerial career 12,000 miles away.

He has worked as number two behind Clive Woodward since September 1997 _ a no-nonsense right-hand man whose expert knowledge of forward play helped mould an outstanding England pack.

"He leaves with the best wishes and thanks of the squad and management for the excellent work he has carried out with the players since he took over the role as assistant coach," said Woodward.

"A replacement for John will be considered by Club England and the RFU management board during the next few months."

Mitchell, formerly coach of Sale and currently working at Wasps, will bow out after England's final Six Nations fixture against Scotland at Murrayfield on April 2.

"It has been an honour to coach England, and I will remain totally committed to the squad and our preparations for each of the games in the forthcoming Six Nations Championship," he said.

The Woodward-Mitchell partnership has so far been together for 28 Tests, of which England have won 13, drawn two and lost 13 a record that includes England's 1999 World Cup campaign which was their worst for 12 years.

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