England may be without coach for Six Nations, admits Andrew

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The Independent Online

England may go into the 2007 Six Nations Championship without a head coach, but Francis Baron declared last night that Twickenham will not lose its head man.

Baron, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, insisted last night: "I am not going anywhere." And he countered calls by Club England committee member Simon Halliday for a split in the running of the game.

But it was Andrew's claim which raised eyebrows. England open their Six Nations campaign against Scotland on 3 February. Andrew said: "If you are a betting man you would think it is highly likely [no one will be appointed]."

Andrew, the RFU's elite director, has effectively ruled himself out of the running for such a role and he made it clear that there are a number of options to consider, including not appointing anyone to take overall charge, thus leaving the three specialist coaches, Brian Ashton (attack), John Wells (forwards) and Mike Ford (defence) to answer directly to him.

"We have to take our time to get it right, that's the most important thing," added Andrew. "We have to look at who might be available and who might have the skills to do the job. Inevitably there is a chance that the person will be already be employed somewhere else. People might be saying 'I don't fancy this much, I will wait until after the World Cup'. There is a whole range of issues that need resolving."

Last night Andrew received backing from Halliday. The former Bath and England centre said: "What happens next is Rob's call. He needs to drive this. But nothing is going to be said ahead of the Club England meeting on 7 December."

But no matter whether a head coach or a team manager is appointed, Halliday believes the time has come for a split at Twickenham and he wants Club England to be given autonomy in all rugby matters.

"We need an immediate change in the structure and that involves empowering groups of people who have the skill sets, in other words Club England," Halliday explained. "I am looking for a positive spilt in the RFU.

"What we would like is for the management board not to be making all the rugby decisions any more. In future Club England should make decisions, not as happens at the moment making recommendations to the management board. And that is going to be on the Club England agenda when we meet on 7 December. In order for us to be able to deliver on the England front, we do need a separation.

"So that means Francis getting stuck into what he has done quite successfully, namely the financial turnaround and leave the rest to us in Club England."

Last night, however, Baron countered: "I was quite surprised with some of the comments Simon made because Club England is responsible for the selection process and they make recommendations to the RFU management board on who should be England coach."

But Baron was being somewhat obtuse, because it is the "recommendation" bit of that statement by the chief executive to which Halliday and Club England object. Nevertheless, Baron has the same goal as Halliday and his colleagues, and he said: "We have to take responsibility to make sure that our structures are there to deliver the right platform for the players to develop their skills, to deliver a winning England side, to deliver successful club sides in the Heineken Cup."

And he gave a broad hint that those structures may well include central contracts. "I look with envy at Ireland who have control of their players through central contracts.

"We are looking at central contracts as a possible option. We have talked to club owners about it. It is not a thing they are terribly keen on, but you can't rule out anything."

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of high-profile figures being touted as possible successors to Robinson. The front-runners include the South African Nick Mallett, the New Zealander Warren Gatland and the former Australia coach Eddie Jones, as well as the former England captain Martin Johnson, the Harlequins director of rugby Dean Richards, the Gloucester director of rugby Dean Ryan and the former England scrum-half Richard Hill, who has masterminded Bristol's takeover at the top of the Premiership.

Jones, who is under contract to the Super 14 side Queensland Reds, said: "I am committed to the Reds, but I'm not ruling anything out. What harm would it do talking to the Rugby Football Union?"