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Page last updated at Wednesday, 26 March 2008, 18:37 GMT

Ashton's England future unclear

England coach Brian Ashton
Ashton's England had a mixed Six Nations campaign

The long-term future of England boss Brian Ashton is still unclear after Rob Andrew presented his Six Nations review to the Rugby Football Union.

Ashton remains as head coach but the RFU will continue the search for a team manager and another specialist coach.

Andrew, the RFU's director of elite rugby, reportedly wants former skipper Martin Johnson as team manager - a move that could lead to Ashton's departure.

Andrew will make his recommendations to a Club England meeting in early April.

Ashton's future has been the subject of intense speculation following England's mixed Six Nations tournament.

And his willingness to stay in the job could depend on whether the RFU is successful in persuading Johnson to join the management set-up.

Ashton, 61, has made it clear that he would welcome the appointment of a team manager to take some of the administrative duties away from him, with former England skipper Phil De Glanville believed to be his preferred choice.

The board was unanimous in authorising Rob Andrew to continue the discussions currently under way to strengthen the England team structure

RFU statement

But Ashton has been keen to stress that he would want to retain complete responsibility for all rugby-related issues, including selection and tactics.

However, Johnson appears likely to demand an input in selection and tactics.

Andrew came back from holiday to present his review to the RFU management board on Wednesday afternoon and a statement issued after the lengthy meeting made no mention of either Ashton or Johnson.

"The management board congratulated the England senior team in finishing second in the Six Nations, a significant improvement on previous years," said the statement.

"The board accepted Rob Andrew's interim report and was unanimous in authorising him to continue the discussions currently under way to strengthen the England team structure through the recruitment of a team manager and an additional specialist coach.

"Recommendations on these appointments will be made to a Club England meeting in early April, who will then make final recommendations to the RFU management board which will convene, as necessary, an additional meeting ahead of its scheduled meeting on the 30 April to consider these recommendations."

Johnson, who led England to World Cup glory in 2003, is regarded as one of the finest leaders the country has ever produced.

Martin Johnson
Johnson was a massive presence for the Lions, England and Leicester

He is the only man to skipper the British and Irish Lions twice and won 84 England caps - 39 of which were as captain.

Johnson was appointed Leicester skipper in 1997 and led the Tigers to four straight Premiership titles between 1999 and 2002 as well as successive Heineken Cup triumphs in 2001 and 2002.

The former lock retired as a player in 2005 but has not gone into coaching as yet, restricting himself to ambassadorial and media roles.

Earlier this month, Johnson became one of the Premiership clubs' four representatives on the new Professional Game Board, which will take over the running of the top end of English rugby when the new agreement between the RFU and the top-flight teams comes into force in July.

If Johnson is appointed to the management set-up, he is unlikely to take the job until the summer as his wife Kay is expecting their second child in June when England are on their two-Test tour to New Zealand.

Rumours persist about a strained relationship between Ashton's and his assistants John Wells and Mike Ford.

And as well as a team manager, talks will also continue to recruit an additional specialist coach - possibly a backs adviser such as former Leicester and England star Austin Healey - which would clash with Ashton's area of expertise.

Jake White, who coached South Africa to World Cup glory, has also been linked with England and has repeatedly expressed his interest.


Andrew's own position could also now come under scrutiny.

It was his decision to appoint Ashton as Andy Robinson's successor and then to offer him a new rolling contract after England reached the World Cup final in 2007.

Ashton, who has also coached Ireland and Bath, led England to victories over Scotland, Italy and France in his first Six Nations last year.

He lost both Tests in South Africa last summer, though his squad was ravaged by illness and injury, and his team were written off in the World Cup after the drubbing by the Springboks in the pool stages.

But against all the odds, he guided England to the final in Paris - only to see his side lose again to South Africa.

This year, England defeated Italy, France and Ireland to finish second in the Six Nations - their best finish since 2003.

But the campaign was marred by inconsistent performances, with defeats to Wales and Scotland the low points.

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