Sir Clive Woodward insists England can retain their World Cup crown next year - but only if dramatic changes are made to the way the sport is run.
Woodward was knighted for his part in England's World Cup triumph
Woodward, who coached England to victory in 2003, says the RFU and clubs have to start putting players first.
"England can still win the World Cup," Woodward, 50, told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme.
"We've got the players but it needs someone with leadership to say 'we've got to sort this out now'."
Since their 2003 World Cup win, England have slipped down the world rankings against a backdrop of continual club v country rows.
But Woodward, who resigned as England coach in September 2004, added: "England can recover very quickly.
"I was disappointed to hear people talking about the 2011 World Cup already. Who cares about 2011? We've got a World Cup less than a year away."
Woodward said England should appoint former South Africa coach Nick Mallett to replace Andy Robinson, who was axed at the end of November.
We've gone from world champions to seventh in the world and having everyone laughing at us.
"He's the outstanding candidate, as long as you understand the job description," said Woodward.
"You need a Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger-type figure. It doesn't matter if he's manager or coach. Just let him get on with it."
But Woodward said any potential candidate might be put off by having his every move scrutinised by RFU director of elite rugby Rob Andrew.
"Personally, I'd never take any job (with someone above me)," said Woodward.
"You have to be in control of your own destiny and budget and you need everyone else to clear out the way."
Woodward, who is now director of elite performance at the British Olympic Association, also suggested that the RFU's under-fire chief executive Francis Baron should stand down.
Baron's position at the RFU has come under intense pressure
"Francis Baron has been in charge for a long time so he has to step up to the mark and do something now," he said.
"If he comes up with something that works then he could possibly stay but if we just come with consultants and franchises, then we need someone new.
"There's lots of good people who would like the opportunity to sort out this mess.
"We've gone from world champions to seventh in the world and having everyone laughing at us," added Woodward.
"If England go to France and get thumped because everyone's still talking about changes, this group of players will look back and feel very embittered."
criticised the decision to sack England's fitness coach Dave Reddin;
dismissed RFU chairman Martyn Thomas' plan to limit England players to 28 games a season, saying individual programmes must be in place for each player;
said England should play former captain Jason Robinson and rugby league import Andy Farrell.
But Thomas insists the "the biggest issue" facing the RFU is the welfare of England's leading players.
"We want England to win but that will come about by protecting the most valuable part of the equation - the players," he said.
"We will look at reducing the number of international games and we want to get the players down to around 28 games a year."
The RFU is currently undergoing a review process to decide on the best way forward for English rugby.
It has appointed consultants to draw up a blueprint for changes to the sport in England, with the RFU management board also set to meet on 20 December to consider a report from Andrew on a replacement for Robinson.