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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 11:10 GMT
The way forward for England
By James Standley

Martin Corry walks off after defeat by South Africa
More than the coach needs to change after England's miserable autumn
Three years after its glorious success at the World Cup, English rugby union seems to be in a state of crisis.

No longer the number one team on the planet, the national side have lost eight of their last nine games and are highly unlikely to successfully defend their world title in France next year.

Andy Robinson has already been axed as coach in a bid to revive England's fortunes, but changes need to go much deeper than that.

So, what is the way forward for English rugby?

THE MAIN PLAYERS

The RFU management board

Made up of 13 members, including chairman Martyn Thomas, chief executive Francis Baron.

There are two further RFU employees, plus seven representatives from the amateur game, representing such diverse organisations as the RAF.

There are also two representatives from the professional game, namely John Spencer of Club England and Peter Wheeler of Premier Rugby.

Club England

This is a RFU committee that oversees the England team but it can only make recommendations to the RFU management board.

RFU director of elite rugby Rob Andrew
Rob Andrew has a major role to play if the two sides are to be reconciled

Members of Club England include RFU elite director of rugby Rob Andrew and former England players Spencer, Bill Beaumont, Jason Leonard and Simon Halliday.

Premier Rugby

This body represents the clubs. The organisation's chairman is Gloucester owner Tom Walkinshaw while Mark McCafferty is chief executive.

The clubs employ the England players, and owners such as Keith Barwell and Nigel Wray have poured millions of pounds into the game over the years.

Professional Rugby Players Association

The PRA, whose boss is former England player Damian Hopley, looks after the players' interests.

THE PROBLEMS

One of the main reasons cited for England's poor performances is the dispute over who controls the players.

When the game went professional the RFU did not sign the players up, the clubs did. This has led to a long-running power struggle between the two sides.

Ireland and New Zealand players are controlled by their national unions and their seasons are geared around peaking for the biggest matches of the season.

New Zealand boss Graham Henry will pull his leading players out of the first half of the 2007 Super 14 season to make sure they peak at exactly the right time for the World Cup.

Although England's players are limited to 32 full games a season the England coach cannot dictate to the clubs when to play them.

With so many competing agendas players can get caught between a rock and a hard place.

The confusing way the English season is set up - with players flitting between Premiership, EDF Energy Cup, Heineken Cup and international matches - is another issue to be addressed.

THE SOLUTIONS

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, the RFU's Baron said there was a need for "radical solutions".

Chief executive Francis Baron
Chief executive Baron says the RFU is planning "radical changes"

He insisted there was "a new sense of purpose and unity between the union and the senior clubs' owners".

The RFU has also employed management consultants to look at the structure of the game and big changes are expected.

The RFU's preferred solution would be central contracts, so they employ the players. This is very unlikely, however, as the clubs will not cede control of their prime assets.

In order to get greater access to the players, the RFU may be prepared to offer an end to relegation from the Premiership, with 2009 mentioned as a possible date.

Club owners hate relegation as they claim it is impossible to build their businesses on a long-term basis when future revenues are under threat.

There are also suggestions that fear of relegation is producing negative rugby, with teams playing a power-based game, rather than a more skill-based style, because they are scared to take risks with the drop looming.

(Club England's) ability to deliver has been utterly impaired by the fact that the (RFU) management board don't pay attention to what we say

Simon Halliday
One of the expected proposals from the consultants employed by the RFU is a franchise system, with the RFU as stakeholders in the clubs.

But McCafferty, speaking on behalf of the clubs, insists: "There is no appetite for it."

The RFU also needs to be restructured so that it is more responsive to the professional game.

At the moment the management board makes the decisions.

Not only is it considered slow and inefficient by many in the game, it also frustrates Club England members that their recommendations about the national side can be ignored.

Club England member Halliday said: "Our ability to deliver has been utterly impaired by the fact that the management board don't pay attention to what we say."

One solution here would be to give elite rugby director Andrew a place at the top table and RFU chairman Thomas has told BBC Sport that he wants this to happen.

The RFU says it will have its proposals for restructuring ready by late January or early February.



SEE ALSO
Andrew set for seat on RFU board
06 Dec 06 |  English
RFU boss Baron rejects quit calls
30 Nov 06 |  Rugby Union
England 'must wait for new coach'
30 Nov 06 |  Rugby Union
England's era of decline
29 Nov 06 |  English
RFU wins court battle on players
27 Jul 06 |  Internationals
Player survey leads to fresh row
09 Aug 06 |  English


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