Andrew adamant England coach will still have final say

Click to follow

Sir Clive Woodward always insisted that no modern professional sports team should be picked by committee, so the World Cup-winning grandee is probably relieved to be running the 2012 Olympics rather than the England rugby side. The man who recently beat Woodward to the top job at Twickenham, the former Lions outside-half Rob Andrew, will join the four senior national coaches on a formal selection panel - a throwback to the days of the Big Five in Wales, who abandoned the system as a bad job in the late 1980s. Quite how this old-new regime will work is anybody's guess.

Along with the Rugby Football Union chief executive Francis Baron, the new man spent much of yesterday labouring the point that the last word on who played where and when would remain with Andy Robinson, the head coach.

Andrew also stressed that his appointment as the RFU's director of élite rugby would in no way undermine Robinson's position. Unsurprisingly, Robinson himself said something similar.

Yet despite Andrew's best efforts - there are few more articulate men operating at the top end of the English game - the situation remained confused. What would happen before the All Blacks game on Guy Fawkes' Day if, as might easily happen, Robinson wanted Peter Richards at scrum-half and the other four plumped for Shaun Perry?

"I knew someone would ask me that," Andrew replied with a grimace. "Andy will chair the selection group. Should he decide four of us are wrong and wants to pick someone else, he will have the final say." At which point, Robinson added: "We'll have to get things fundamentally wrong as a coaching team if that situation occurs."

Stranger things have happened, however, not least in the three years since Martin Johnson hoisted the Webb Ellis Trophy in Sydney. Andrew was fairly blunt about the descent in red rose fortunes, offering the opinion that Robinson had been "left holding the baby" in the aftermath of Woodward's resignation in 2004 and stating that "too many players" had represented England in the interim, some of whom had not been good enough.

This last comment raised Andrew's impression of the head coach as a selector - a view frequently, and disparagingly, expressed in print during his previous life as director of rugby at Newcastle. "Those issues aired publicly have been dealt with privately and there are no differences between us," he insisted.

Baron described Andrew's role as "probably the biggest playing-side rugby job in the world", and was not far wrong, given the broad canvas on which the newcomer will work. Aside from the Test-related matters, Andrew will oversee all other representative teams, the coaching and refereeing networks, even the medical and conditioning set-ups. In addition, he has been made a director of the RFU and will be involved in budgetary control. As far as the greater rugby public are concerned, however, he will be judged on England's performances over the 12 months leading into next year's World Cup in France. And that means Andrew will necessarily spend a good deal of his time judging Robinson.

"I am part of the team backing Andy and taking collective responsibility," he said. "As far as I am concerned, Andy is secure up to the World Cup." Really? Whatever the results of the forthcoming autumn internationals? "I don't think you can say that of anyone," he replied, not unreasonably.

"Andy has been under pressure for the last couple of years and he has admitted that some selection decisions were not the best. But his focus now is on becoming the best head coach he can be in an environment that supports him."

Robinson will need all the support he can get if things go badly awry when New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa arrive in town in November. As Baron pronounced yesterday: "Nobody has a job for life. We all have to perform."

Worcester, horrified by their home-ground collapse against Bristol last weekend, have made six changes to their starting formation for tonight's Premiership match at Newcastle. Thomas Lombard and Matthew Powell come into the back division, while a radical overhaul of the pack sees promotions for Darren Morris, Tevita Taumoepeau, Craig Gillies and Drew Hickey - and relegation to the bench for Chris Horsman, the Wales tight-head prop. Wasps have called up Jeremy Staunton, Joe Ward and Martin Purdy for this evening's derby with London Irish at High Wycombe.

Staunton, used as a replacement in the narrow victory over Saracens last Saturday, keeps his place in midfield ahead of Rob Hoadley, while Ward replaces Raphael Ibañez at hooker on rota. Purdey is involved as a result of the broken finger suffered by the England lock Simon Shaw.

* Andy Farrell could make his long-awaited debut for Saracens in next Monday night's A League game at Esher against Harlequins.