The Rugby Football Union yesterday made Rob Andrew one of the most powerful figures in the game when he was appointed as England's élite rugby director.
The 43-year-old was chosen ahead of two distinguished figures in the international game, Sir Clive Woodward, who masterminded England's 2003 World Cup triumph, and Ian McGeechan, the former Scotland and British Lions coach, both of whom were under consideration right to the end.
The appointment, which comes a bare fortnight before the start of the new season, sees Andrew ending an 11-year association with Newcastle, during which he was in charge for a record 326 competitive games.
The England and Lions fly-half joined the Falcons from Wasps as a player in 1995, just as the English game went professional; indeed he could be said to have been the flag-bearer of full-time rugby. His move came during the RFU's attempted season-long moratorium on professionalism, and in the following 12 months Andrew was able to entice several key players to Kingston Park.
During his time there he nurtured Jonny Wilkinson's career and on retiring as a player he became director of rugby. He helped Newcastle to climb out of the second tier of the game and win the Premiership in 1998, their first season in the top flight. Under Andrew they also won the knock-out cup in 2001 and 2004.
The Twickenham post is unprecedented in the world game, putting Andrew in charge of pretty well everything to do with England. The double Cambridge blue (rugby and cricket), who won 71 caps for England, will head up a department which includes England's representative teams from the Under-18s through to the national senior side; the national and regional academies, run in partnership with the Premiership clubs; the élite referees; and all matters of sports science and medicine.
Andrew's role is aimed at developing players for the international stage, with the ultimate aim being World Cup success. Realistically that will be expected in 2011, although next year's title defence in France will also come under his aegis.
Andrew will also be responsible for hiring and firing coaches and managers from top to bottom. The present England head coach, Andy Robinson, looks safe despite a run of five defeats, but his side has to start winning again, beginning with New Zealand at Twickenham on 5 November, or he could find his head on the block.
Andrew is no stranger to the politics of English rugby, and even as a player he had an influential voice. He was behind the England squad's demand for financial reward for their intellectual property rights at the beginning of the 1990s. He served on the board of Club England and produced a blueprint for the future of the game, his "10-year plan" in 2000. His fresh-faced good looks and nickname - "Squeaky", as in clean - mask one of the toughest characters and sharpest minds in the English game.
Andrew, who takes up his appointment on 1 September, said: "The time I've spent in professional Premiership club rugby has been invaluable. I want to work closely with the club owners and the directors of rugby so that we can reach agreements which will benefit both parties and take international and club rugby in this country to another level."
His appointment was welcomed by the Premier Rugbychief executive Mark McCafferty, who said: "I think Rob's appointment will be good for the club and international games. He understands the club game and I hope he will be sympathetic towards the clubs."
The former England prop Jeff Probyn, an RFU council member, said: "It is a good move for rugby, but anyone who thinks he is going to make a dramatic change immediately is living in cloud cuckoo land. It will take him a while to put right the mistakes that Woodward made."
The RFU chief executive Francis Baron announced the creation of the post after the Six Nations review in April and it was advertised at the beginning of May.
Initially Andrew said he was not interested, but he was persuaded to change his mind. Among those linked to the job were the New Zealander Warren Gatland, Australia's Eddie Jones, and the South Africans Nick Mallett and Jake White.
Baron said: "The search was a thorough one. Interviews took place in England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa." The selection panel of Baron, the RFU chairman Martyn Thomas and two former England captains, Bill Beaumont and John Spencer, found the final decision a tight one.
However, Baron was able to say yesterday that: "Rob is the best person for the job and the fact that he came through a very competitive field, with some superb candidates competing for the élite rugby director role, says much about the way he impressed the interview panel with his vision and ideas."
What next for Sir Clive after snub from Twickenham?
Sir Clive Woodward has made it clear that he does not want to manage or coach a Premiership rugby club, but he has indicated that he would like, eventually, to coach a Premiership football side. He now has Football Association coaching qualifications.
His current position as Southampton's technical director is seen as a precarious one, but as a versatile and astute businessman he could probably land a job as a government adviser. He has the intellect and ability to lend his mind to higher political things and the outlook is certainly not all bleak for Sir Clive.Reuse content