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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 08:42 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.

In slumping from the world number one ranking to seventh, 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?

REPLACING ROBINSON

With Andy Robinson gone, the first issue that needs to be addressed is who is going to take charge of the struggling world champions?

One option would be to bring in a new head coach.

Of the likely candidates, ex-Australia coach Eddie Jones has already thrown his hat in the ring and Harlequins boss Dean Richards has not ruled it out.

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

Ex-England centre Simon Halliday

And Warren Gatland, Dean Ryan, Richard Hill and Nick Mallet have all been mentioned in dispatches.

One problem for the Rugby Football Union (RFU) could be that the new man would want to bring his own coaching team with him.

The current coaching team of Brian Ashton, Mike Ford and John Wells were only appointed earlier this year and would be expensive to remove.

And the leading contenders for the top job are all under contract at the moment as well.

A more likely option, up to and including the World Cup, would be for highly rated attack coach Ashton to take a more prominent role.

He could either step up as head coach, or work in tandem with the RFU's director of elite rugby Rob Andrew, who could step into a managerial role.

CLUB V COUNTRY

The on-going row over player access is the main issue clouding the relationship between the RFU and the clubs.

The RFU wants to secure better access to England players, whose contracts are owned by the clubs.

Chief executive Francis Baron
Chief executive Baron says the RFU is planning "radical changes"
The RFU would love to introduce central contracts, such as they have in New Zealand and Ireland, but that is a non-starter as the clubs will not cede power over the players.

By contrast, both the Irish and New Zealand unions own their players' contracts, so they have total control over when they play.

For example, New Zealand's top players will miss the first half of the 2007 Super 14 season to prepare for the World Cup later that year.

England players are limited to 32 full games a season but they are often torn between conflicting agendas, with clubs requiring them to play at a time when England would rather they were resting, and vice versa.

"We have to look at whether we play too many games in England," said RFU chief executive Francis Baron.

Injuries have increased dramatically since the game went professional and the RFU revealed earlier this season that 25% of players are injured at any one time.

Influential ex-England back Simon Halliday said that was major cause of concern.

"The players are all knackered - at the moment we're letting them down. The way we're preparing them is destroying them. We've got to put an end to it," he said last week.

In order to gain greater access to the players the RFU is likely to offer an olive branch to the clubs.

They may well 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 is also a suggestion the RFU will try to introduce a franchise system where they would have ultimate control.

The system would be a closed shop - removing the threat of relegation - with the RFU becoming stakeholders in the clubs alongside the club owners.

But Premier Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty, speaking on behalf of the clubs, insists: "There is no appetite for it."

REFORM THE RFU

Many people in the game, such as Halliday, are unhappy with the structure of the RFU itself.

The union is run by a 13-man management board which contains the likes of Baron, RFU chairman Martyn Thomas and representatives from the amateur and professional game.

The Club England committee, which comprises ex-internationals such as Halliday, Andrew, John Spencer and Bill Beaumont, advises the board on rugby matters.

RFU director of elite rugby Rob Andrew
Rob Andrew has a major role to play if the two sides are to be reconciled
Damian Hopley, boss of the Professional Rugby Players' Association, is also a member.

Halliday wants Club England to have a much bigger say within the RFU so that rugby matters are dealt with by people with top-level experience in the game.

He wants it to become a decision-making body rather than a recommendation-giving group and this was top of the agenda when Club England met on Thursday.

"Our ability to deliver has been utterly impaired by the fact that the management board don't pay attention to what we say," Halliday said before the meeting.

But Thomas insisted it was still important for the management board to act as a "check and balance" to the recommendations of Club England.

Andrew, the RFU's new director of elite rugby, is a member of Club England but not the management board.

However, that is expected to change, with RFU chairman Thomas telling BBC Sport on Wednesday that he wants Andrew to have a seat on the board.

RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett has been carrying out a review into the structure of the union and in a separate move management consultants have been employed by the RFU to look into the entire structure of the English game.

Both are expected to report to the management board on 20 December, with the RFU unveiling their plans in late January or early February.

TALENT DEVELOPMENT

The development of young English talent is of major concern, with suggestions that the academy system is hindering the development of young players.

Steps are being taken to ensure that youngsters who see little first-team action are loaned out to first division clubs for experience.

The academies want to organise dual registration of players so they are not sat on benches at Premiership clubs, but this was turned down by the governance committee of the RFU.

Andrew told the management board about it and they will send it back to the governance committee for approval.

SEE ALSO
Corry backs Richards for England
08 Dec 06 |  Rugby Union
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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