Rugby Union: RFU start talking to Bath on Woodward

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The Independent Online
Flustered Rugby Football Union officials have finally seen the light and agreed to play things by the book as the high farce surrounding the appointment of England's new coach nears the end of a run of Mousetrap proportions, writes Chris Hewett. The RFU yesterday set about securing the services of Clive Woodward by belatedly opening negotiations with the former international centre's current club, Bath, rather than ignoring them altogether.

Tony Swift, the Bath chief executive, who earlier this week lambasted the RFU for making direct approaches to Woodward, said yesterday that official contact between Twickenham and the Recreation Ground had at long last been made. "Any misunderstandings have been cleared up," he added, diplomatically.

The RFU had been scheduled to install Woodward as coach yesterday following a ratification meeting between the national playing committee and the full management board. That plan fell apart at the seams in comic style when it became clear that neither Woodward nor Richard Hill, the Gloucester supremo earmarked for an assistant coach's role in the England set-up, were quite as available as had been assumed.

Indeed, Gloucester took steps to block any further approaches to Hill, who is just two months into a five-year Kingsholm contract. However, he will almost certainly be released to play some sort of England role provided the rest of the coaching framework is safely put in place. For that to happen, the RFU will have to compensate Bath for the loss of Woodward's services.

"We need three parties to be in full agreement over this - Clive, the RFU and ourselves," Swift said yesterday. "As far as we are concerned, our front-line management team of Clive, Andy Robinson and Jim Blair is superb, as good as any club could wish for, and we don't want to see it break up. If Clive assured us that he wanted to stay at The Rec, the RFU could offer us a million and they wouldn't get him.

"Having said that, if Clive is formally offered the England job and he decides he wants to take it, we'll have to think things through and discuss the issues that arise, of which compensation would certainly be one. I'm waiting to hear more from the RFU."

Roger Uttley, a former England captain and a member of the 1974 Lions, will definitely be confirmed as the national team's new manager following Jack Rowell's resignation last week, but the RFU want to finalise the entire coaching structure rather than announce their appointments in piecemeal fashion.