Baron says RFU will push for 'radical' change

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The Independent Online

It emerged yesterday that the Rugby Football Union decided a year ago to look into changing the way the game is run in this country.

The decision followed last year's autumn internationals, which saw England beat Australia and Samoa and lose to New Zealand. Six months ago a firm of management consultants, one of the top three in the country according to one Twickenham insider, was employed for a seven-figure fee to produce revolutionary ideas for running the game.

The study has examined how other countries run their game and how other professional sports are administered. The management consultants have reported regularly to Twickenham and more recently to Rob Andrew, the RFU's elite rugby director.

Andrew, who started in his job at the beginning of September, has had input on the firm's findings and has been instructing them to go back and look more closely at some of them. The completed report will be presented to the RFU later this month.

Yesterday Francis Baron, the RFU's chief executive, promised radical changes to the way the game is run. The 2006 autumn Tests, which resulted in defeats to New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa and a victory over the Springboks, have prompted calls for Baron to follow the head coach, Andy Robinson, out of Twickenham.

But speaking on BBC Radio Five Live yesterday Baron, who has been dominating the airwaves since Robinson's departure, revealed that he and the RFU chairman, Martyn Thomas, had met with Gloucester's Tom Walkinshaw, Nigel Wray, of Saracens, and Mark McCafferty, of Premier Rugby Ltd, to try to eliminate the differences between clubs and country.

"We had a very good meeting and the conclusion we came to was that our system is creaking and we have to look at some radical solutions," Baron said. Those solutions embrace England's access to players, although central contracts, which are in place in Ireland, are not believed to be an option. Reducing the number of games played and dispensing with automatic promotion and relegation to and from the Premiership were also discussed.

"We have to look at everything," said Baron. "We have to consider fairly radical options. We have to look at whether we play too many games in England. We have to look at whether promotion and relegation is still relevant at the top level of the game.

"We have problems with our academy system. There is a great structure in place with 14 academies [and] we are spending £5m per year on that system, but the lads coming out of the academies cannot get game time in the Premiership clubs.

"That is because the clubs do not want to risk playing them because if they do and they lose they will be relegated. Over the last two to three years other countries have put in place better systems than ours. Ireland in particular have a very effective system.

"We don't want to mirror the Irish system. What we have to come up with is an English system, which learns from other systems and adopts the best things from them.

"The ideas go to the management board on 20 December. After that they have to go out for consultation with the Premier Rugby, the RFU council and the game generally. I think by the end of January or early February we will certainly have got the RFU position finalised."

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