The RFU had no other choice but to dismiss
John Steele as their chief executive.
Not everyone will agree with Oval Talk but
the 10 RFU board members were certainly unanimous in their decision.
Just nine months after the board made the
appointment they had all lost confidence in Steele. And his short spell at the
helm will be remembered for the way he handled the appointment of a new
performance director - or rather the non-appointment.
The whole process has been a shambles, an
unnecessary distraction in a World Cup year and the RFU were right to bring an
end to the embarrassment.
When Steele first started it looked obvious
Sir Clive Woodward was going to become the new performance director. However,
for whatever reason neither Woodward nor anyone else has been appointed.
A swift appointment would have shown the RFU
meant business and wanted to move forward. However, Steele decided to cancel
the interview with Woodward by email without consulting anyone else and then
downgraded the position's job description.
Now, for many of the RFU board members
including the chairman, Martyn Thomas, the performance director role is
critical for the future success of the national team.
So when Steele said last week he only saw
the performance director contributing about five per cent to the national team,
it was clear his time was running out.
This statement was baffling as just before
he started in September Steele was enthusiastic in Woodward becoming the new
performance director. But the downgrading of the role has been thought to be a
ploy to ensure Woodward would not get the job.
What has changed over the last nine months
for Steele to have such a change in judgment is unclear and will be for some
time as his rumoured £1 million pay-off is thought to be accompanied by a vow
But stating the performance director should
have no more than a five per cent influence on the national side not only
conflicted with that RFU board's beliefs - it also made them look stupid. And
that was Steele's last mistake; never belittle the people who can hire and
In hindsight Steele was probably the wrong
person for the job. Prior to the RFU he had been the chief executive of UK
Sport for five years and the quango-style of the organisation had left him
unprepared for one of the highest profile jobs in English rugby.
So what next? Thomas is now the acting
chief executive and his first aim should be to appoint Steele's successor and
then look to the new performance director. But will it be Woodward? Oval Talk
is not so sure.
The 2003 World Cup winning coach would have to leave his job as
the British Olympic Association's director of elite performance but that won't
happen until at least after the London Olympics.
It would be nonsensical to appoint a new
performance director so soon before a World Cup as it would interfere with
England's advanced preparations. But the RFU should certainly bring someone in
by the end of the year, which would rule out Woodward.
It is crucial they get the right person for
the job as it will shape England's future progression and hopes for the 2015
World Cup and beyond. In the meantime let's try and forget the mess the RFU are
in and look forward to this year's World Cup - that is what the team will be