Premiership clubs concerned by running of RFU

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The Independent Online

High-ranking officials from the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs are ready to voice their concerns over the Rugby Football Union's ability to govern the game.

Premiership Rugby is staging its annual pre-season conference over the next two days and the recent turbulence at Twickenham is high on the agenda.

The Rugby World Cup kicks off in eight weeks and on October 23 England will pick up the baton as host nation for the 2015 tournament - but the RFU is in disarray.

They do not have a permanent chairman, chief executive, finance director or performance director in place.

Judge Jeff Blackett produced a damning independent report last week which found a widespread belief that "governance at the top of the Union is broken".

The Premiership chairmen and chief executives will discuss the fall-out from Blackett's report - and are expected to add their voices to a barrage of criticism aimed at the RFU.

"Clearly, we are concerned at the issues which have arisen at the RFU," said Premiership Rugby chairman Quentin Smith.

"We shall be discussing these with the clubs and channelling their views back through the Professional Game Board."

The RFU board and the RFU Council, which is comprised of representatives of the amateur game, have both come in for stinging criticism.

The Council commissioned Blackett to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring and firing of John Steele as chief executive.

Blackett's 52-page report recommended that chairman Martyn Thomas and the majority of the board should resign - but he received little support from the Council in last Sunday's meeting.

Thomas did stand down as chairman but he then threatened to sue Blackett for defamation if the 52-page report was published. The Council voted to keep the contents confidential.

Blackett's recommendation that the board should resign en masse was also rejected by Council, who agreed Thomas should continue in his role as acting chief executive.

The whole episode, particularly the legal threat, left Blackett "distressed" and considering his position as RFU disciplinary officer. He has since decided to remain in the honorary post.

Francis Baron, Steele's predecessor as chief executive, believes Blackett's recommendations "have to be implemented" and the board made to resign.

Meanwhile, former England coach Brian Ashton urged the RFU to consider a more professional management structure "more in line with the elite game".

The Premiership Rugby conference will also focus on reviewing last season, including the introduction of Aviva as a new title sponsor and ESPN as a new television partner.

The delegates will also look at the "rugby and commercial priorities for the upcoming season".