James Lawton: Now we know the true extent of the rugby disaster


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You knew it was bad, very bad indeed. You could see it in the leaden performance and mindless indiscipline on the field and the drunken self-destruction off it, but you couldn't quite know the extent of the failure, the inadequacy of the people involved, until the leaking this week of three official reports into England's World Cup disaster.

Now the extent of the problem is spelled out in almost every line of recrimination, every revelation of a broken, cheap-jack culture. These reports are cause to reach out for a hosepipe. English rugby union needs hosing down.

In the narrowest context of the future of the international team, there is a more practical long-term suggestion. It is for the Rugby Football Union to accept that the need for outside help, from rugby men of achievement and intellect who have not been involved in a hopeless failure, has now become unavoidable.

English cricket, which had also become a sick man of its sport a few years ago, appointed Andy Flower – a former Zimbabwe Test player of outstanding achievement and vigorous principles which led him into conflict with Robert Mugabe – with brilliant results. England are now the world's top Test team.

You couldn't help thinking of the relationship of trust that exists between Flower and captain Andrew Strauss and their players at almost every point of the sickening chore of scouring the reports compiled by the Rugby Players Association, the RFU and Premiership Rugby.

This was especially so when you read the anonymous claim of one RPA member that those young players appalled by the lack of discipline of senior players were aghast when manager Martin Johnson, of all people, "lacked the bollocks" to take action in the wake of the night vice-captain Mike Tindall (above) and other players descended into the booze-filled abyss of Dwarfgate.

Only the reputation of England scrum coach Graham Rowntree is left unblemished by the reports, and especially in the one presented by the RPA.

Johnson's resignation came the day the reports were submitted. He had, so sadly when you think of what he meant to English rugby as a player, little option but to jump. The RFU would surely have felt obliged to push him after reading that the very basis of his appointment, his aura as a competitor and leader, was squandered by his regularly deferring to an outside "leadership" consultant.

Johnson's coaching squad, apart from Rowntree, are not so much criticised as professionally dismantled. The players say that the coaches talked in mumbo jumbo and produced a regime that led to a sharp deterioration in the fitness players brought to the squad.

It is also true, however, that some of the RPA submissions demand a fresh set of questions. If the example of Tindall was so irresponsible, why was the RPA's reflex action to his £25,000 fine and dismissal from the elite list of players an instant appeal and the statement that his punishment was "extraordinary?"

If some of the players were so disgusted by the behaviour of senior players, why did they not make a stand? Why did an experienced player like Mark Cueto make the fatuous claim that it was a sad world when "rugby players can't go out for a few beers and a bit of banter".

At best this was disingenuous. At worst it was disgraceful deceit as it fuelled the claims of many blissfully ignorant England supporters that their heroes were victims of conspiracy and sensationalism. The heroes, we know now, were locked in mutual disgust.

It is against this background that a new man must build commitment and professional pride. There might be a point of light in the suspicion that the South African Nick Mallett may be reconsidering his first rejection of RFU overtures. Mallett might not bring instant remedies but he is his own, intelligent man – and one with plenty of distance from the problems which have brought English rugby so low.

For it is desperate not so much for a weighty job application – but some early response to an SOS.