When the Rugby Football Union announced last April that the new model England would be "leaner and meaner", they weren't kidding. The fallout continues with the abrupt departure of Dave Reddin, the national fitness adviser and an MBE from the increasingly distant past of the World Cup triumph in Australia.
Francis Baron, the chief exec-utive of the RFU, said that after that balmy night in Sydney three Novembers ago, England's party had gone on too long and they had lost focus. It was also felt that people on the RFU payroll were exploiting the World Cup success for their own ends. The night of the long knives seven months ago saw the exit of the coaches Phil Larder, Joe Lydon, Dave Alred and the performance director, Chris Spice. Andy Robinson, the head coach, survived until the disastrous autumn programme did for him as well. Mike Friday, in charge of the sevens squad, has opted to take a job in the City.
The transfer of the Red Rose training operation from the five- star Pennyhill Park in Surrey, so lovingly nurtured by Clive Woodward before he became a knight, to the Crowne Plaza in Marlow was an exercise in cost-cutting, and the process continues. It is tempting to think Reddin has fallen victim to this. Tempting, but a red herring.
The fact is he did not see eye to eye with Rob Andrew who, after dispensing with Robinson, has again stamped his authority. Andrew has only been elite rugby director since September, but everybody is now aware who's boss - it's his way or the highway. "Dave had done a good job but he'd been there for eight years and some of his views didn't coincide with Rob's," said an insider. "It was time to move on." Yet Reddin was praised to the rooftops by Woodward, who said he was the best fitness coach in the business. England may not have been the greatest team in the World Cup but nobody was fitter or, for that matter, leaner and meaner.
What is extraordinary about the Reddin affair is that he signed a new contract last Monday and was gone from Twickenham by Wednesday. It is understood he could have signed several months ago, but chose not to.
"Although the RFU have explained the rationale for their decision to make my role redundant I am disappointed to be leaving," Reddin said. Andrew said: "Dave made a huge impact in developing a world-class fitness programme. His work ensured England arrived at the 2003 World Cup in peak condition and he was a major reason behind the team's success at that tournament. I'm sure he will continue to make a major contribution to elite sport in this country."
Calvin Morriss, Reddin's No 2, will take over, and he inherits a squad beset by injuries. Player welfare is now top of the agenda and there are signs that the crippling casualty rate, the result of a ruinous playing structure, is concentrating minds like no other issue. "We're killing our elite athletes but no one is listening," said Nick Johnston of Sale. "We're overplaying our best people, and with the intensity of the Christmas programme I wouldn't be surprised if England went into the Six Nations with a 30 per cent injury rate."
At the moment Sale's is more like 50 per cent, and they go into today's crucial Heineken Cup match against Stade Français in Paris with 16 players hors de combat. In an ideal world a restructured season could start with the Anglo-Welsh EDF Energy Cup followed by the autumn Tests. Then the sequence would be the Heineken Cup and the Premiership, with the Six Nations at the end. There are considerable obstacles, not least from the television companies who have a big say for their big bucks, and the French, who are opposed to anything that interferes with the end-of-season climax to their club champion-ship. The Six Nations has already been condensed, and the clubs want it squeezed even more.
The Club England committee, who usually comprise 10 members, were of course without Robinson when addressed by Andrew at the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall on Thursday but there were reinforcements aplenty, including Baron, Martyn Thomas, chairman of the management board, Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premier Rugby, and Jason Leonard. The departure of Rob-inson was not discussed and Andrew is unlikely to appoint a successor, at least not like for like. Incredibly, Viv Brown, described as the England team manager, replaced Robinson at an important World Cup briefing in Paris a couple of weeks ago.
Brian Ashton or John Wells will oversee the coaching although the latter, appointed as forwards coach, has yet to sign his contract. It is understood he is unhappy it does not compare to the job description enjoyed by Larder. Andrew probably feels England do not need another coach and anything that cuts expenditure would suit Baron, who blamed the team's demise for a slump in profits. Last season, when England travelled to Paris and gave a wretched performance, the RFU paid for 23 passengers, in addition to the squad. That figure will be slashed.
Baron's critics, though, claim that his policies have cost England dear. He did not act after they finished fourth in the Six Nations the season before last, and when he did the RFU had to pay out about £1 million in compensation to the dismissed and another £1m for New Zealand to open the new South Stand at Twickenham, even though neither the building nor the England team were ready.