Coach stands firm as RFU grandees ponder changes to come

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The Independent Online

Andy Robinson wanted to talk about structural matters - fixture congestion, player burn-out, club-country relationships, that sort of thing. Sadly for the England coach, there to be shot at after another meagre Six Nations Championship return, everyone else wanted to discuss something rather more personal: his job.

"Please don't go down that road, guys," he pleaded. He might as well have asked his questioners to stop breathing for a day. Eventually, Robinson had no choice but to spell out his position vis-a-vis the cull of the coaching team most observers regard as inevitable ahead of this summer's two-Test tour of Australia.

He insisted, not for the first time, that his self-belief was wholly intact, that he was confident he knew where he was taking the national team with regard to next year's World Cup and that any changes were a matter for him and the management board of the Rugby Football Union, which will consider recent events at a meeting in mid-April.

"I have a contract through to the end of the World Cup and I aim to honour it, so until I'm told differently, I'm the England coach," he said. "There is a lot of thinking to be done, a lot of soul-searching, but I remain passionate about this job. I believe we're moving in the right direction and I have total belief in myself. I don't expect to be going anywhere."

That may well turn out to be the case, despite the uncomfortable nature of the post mortem now being conducted by the RFU hierarchy. Twickenham grandees move in very different ways to the chairmen of football clubs, and it would be most unlike them to ditch Robinson within four games of a 47-point win over Wales and within six of a mighty struggle with the All Blacks, who were sorely tested in November.

Can a case be made for the wider status quo, though? Hardly. It is inconceivable that England will fly to Sydney without at least one new face among the back-room staff. Martyn Thomas, the RFU chairman, has already indicated that a full-time manager might be appointed, and there is a strong rumour that Jim Mallinder, the former Sale coach currently running the national academy, will take over from Joe Lydon as the overseer of England's attack. The RFU will also consider an approach to Shaun Edwards, whose coaching achievements at Wasps have put him in the front rank of Premiership operators.

Robinson's assertion that England turned in only one poor performance in the tournament, against France in Paris eight days ago, was not grounded in reality, but his concerns over the effects of an unforgiving fixture structure rang true, even though he was effectively trotting out the old Sir Clive Woodward mantra: too much club rugby and limited preparation time equals a dog's breakfast.

"People say we won a World Cup in circumstances similar to those we face now, but the sport has changed a great deal since 2003," he said. "For one thing, the Premiership is vastly more competitive. It is a superb base for professional rugby, but if we're serious about making the best of ourselves we have to get the balance right. The moment we strike that balance, we'll get the single inches and little edges we need to win major matches.

"Yes, Clive said all this before he resigned. Yes, he was right. I thought I could change things from within, but it hasn't really happened."

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