Baron refuses to rule Woodward out for elite post

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union's chief executive, Francis Baron, has insisted that he has not blocked Sir Clive Woodward's return to Twickenham as élite rugby director.

Woodward, the mastermind of England's 2003 World Cup triumph now at Southampton football club, is favourite to land the role which was created following the completion of the RFU's Six Nations review.

Baron's frosty relationship with Woodward is reportedly a stumbling block to his appointment, but the RFU boss claimed yesterday that talks over potential candidates have yet to begin.

"I haven't approached Clive to see if he would like to come back as élite director. We're advertising the post this week," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

"We'll see who applies. Nobody has been ruled in or ruled out. I have no idea if Clive will apply. Reports that I'm blocking Clive's return are rubbish.

"We haven't even got around to discussing likely candidates. We want the best guy available in the world.

"Other names linked like Rob Andrew, Dean Richards and Warren Gatland are great but I have no idea if they are interested. It's all speculation. I don't have any preference.

"We want to appoint the successful candidate as soon as possible but the sort of guys we're looking at will be under contract to other organisations, so it won't happen immediately."

Woodward resigned as England head coach in 2004, firing a furious parting shot at the clubs and the RFU.

"When Clive left there was a lot of emotion in what he said, not a lot of fact," Baron said.

"We've had a difficult time after the World Cup and the point Clive was making was that he felt he hadn't been given enough support by the clubs in terms of player access.

"Those issues are still around but since Clive left we have agreed a new set of release days with the clubs to take us through to the World Cup and we have to make that work."

Baron also backed the current head coach, Andy Robinson, who will share responsibility for selection with the new appointee.

"We looked at every position in the structure and had to make changes right across the board," said Baron.

"Andy is an excellent coach and we wanted him to lead the coaching team. He's got great support from the players and within the RFU so his position was never in doubt."

Felipe Contepomi, Leinster's outside-half, bounced back from his poor performance against Munster last week to set up a vital Celtic League win against the Ospreys on Saturday.

The Argentinian returned to Lansdowne Road, the scene of last Sunday's Heineken Cup semi-final defeat, to score 18 points and help Leinster back to the top of the table. Contepomi and his half-back partner Guy Easterby (twice) scored tries and the back-rowers Jamie Heaslip and Niall Ronan also crossed the Welsh side's line.

The Ospreys scored two consolation tries through Jonny Vaughton and Gavin Henson, who also kicked three penalties and a conversion.

Easterby scored his first try after 19 minutes. From a Malcolm O'Kelly line-out take, the scrum-half looped around Contepomi and went on a 35-metre run to the line with only Henson attempting to tackle him.

Contepomi converted, and right on half-time handed off his opposite number, Matthew Jones, to score. Contepomi added an injury-time penalty to his conversion for a 20-6 lead.

Two minutes after the restart Henson kicked his third penalty, but Contepomi added a penalty before Easterby scored his second for a 28-9 lead. Vaughton then scored, but Heaslip, after 69 minutes, and Ronan, on full-time, sealed the win. There was still time for Henson to score in injury time, and the retiring Leinster and Ireland flanker Eric Miller to receive a standing ovation from an appreciative home crowd.

In Cape Town, a surprising 28-17 defeat for New Zealand's Crusaders against South Africa's Stormers has set up an intriguing final two rounds of the Super 14's regular season.

South Africa's Bulls, who beat their countrymen, the sixth-placed Sharks, 34-27, moved to four points behind the fourth-placed ACT Brumbies. The Crusaders are second behind the New South Wales Waratahs.

New Zealand's Hurricanes are in third on 39 points and the Brumbies are on 37. The Bulls face an uphill battle to make the last four.

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