Thursday, 6 January 2011

All change please

Much is being made of the scrapping of Rob Andrew’s role at Twickenham following new RFU CEO John Steele’s strategic review this week. Looking at the nation’s message boards it looks as if  “good riddance” and "it’s about time” are the prevailing sentiments being expressed by England rugby fans.

This is not a view I share. Firstly I should declare my hand by saying that I knew, and indeed played rugby with, Mr Andrew at university. I am therefore suitably biased.

I do, however, find it strange that there appear to be many who are happy to lay the blame for all of England rugby’s woes since 2003 squarely at Andrew's door. This ignores the following inconvenient facts:

- he was not appointed to his role as Director of Elite Rugby until 2006 and therefore inherited the RFU's failure to plan beyond 2003;

- other than during the ill-fated New Zealand tour in 2008 he hasn't been picking or coaching the England team;

- he was instrumental in negotiating the Elite Player Agreement with the leading English clubs, ending years of club vs country bickering and providing England’s management with unprecedented access to and control over players; and

- he has overseen a resurgence in England age group rugby, with the Under 18s and Under 20s now flying and with several younger players now coming through into the senior ranks.

Arguably the all-encompassing remit of Andrew's original role has perhaps been too wide (was it strictly necessary for the England head coach to report to him, for instance?) and yes, England’s senior squad has taken a frustratingly long time to show signs that it might compete on the world stage again. To ignore Andrew's other achievements in his role, however, seems churlish and the fact that he has been invited to apply for the new role of Operations Director may well now enable him to play to his strengths.

What does seem a little odd is the creation of a new Performance Director role, a position to which Martin Johnson will have to report. By all means have a Performance Director, but I would have thought giving Johnno direct access to a rugby-oriented CEO like Steele would make far more sense.

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