The renewed clicking of the Twickenham turnstiles for yesterday's Barbarians match must have been a welcome sound to Rugby Football Union ears, but it will be a while before it drowns out the discordant chat about whether England players are money-grabbing so-and-sos.
A few words from a member of the Professional Game Board, whose 101 pages of reports into the national team were explosively and extensively leaked last Wednesday, may soothe any furrowed brows as English rugby catches its collective breath this morning. "The leaks have attracted a lot of hysteria," the PGB member told the Independent on Sunday, "but the important thing is that the work we intended with the reports has been done. It is all aimed at improving structures and the quality of people and communication."
Doubtless there will be one or two persons still in the dark as to who the Professional Game Board are (a 12-man committee of RFU, club and players' association representatives, by the way) or who have not yet read the 169 pages of a London law firm's report on the governance of English rugby posted on the RFU website on Friday night, or unaware of the deep detail contained with the elite player agreement and the Heads of Agreement by which every Premiership and England player and coach is supposed to live his life.
Those persons were probably busy running around with a ball on a field yesterday afternoon, from park pitches in Penzance to the hallowed turf of HQ. In other words, playing the game.
There are nevertheless pressing issues to address – some thrown up by the leaked confidential comments of England players, others festering from longer ago – and it starts this week. Rob Andrew has refused to resign despite widespread criticism of his running of the RFU's elite rugby department and if he earns the £286,000 salary reported in two newspapers, it may be easierto understand why.
Andrew will go to the RFU board of directors on Wednesday with the means of choosing the successor to Martin Johnson as England head coach high on the agenda. The Board may have a view on Andrew's position, but they are likely to wait until the new chief executive, with City experience, is appointed next month. Clause 153 of The Heads of Agreement (come on, keep up) provide for Andrew and two representatives each from the clubs and Union to recommend who should coach England. Always in the background – and in some observers' eyes explaining the plot behind the leaks – is the support for Sir Clive Woodward to become the rugby director.
On Friday, the 59-person (there is one woman) RFU Council meet and will consider the report by Slaughter and May which recommends a Council – in essence the volunteers of the counties, forces and universities – be halved in size and split into five regions. Crucially the law firm recommended a Board more dominated by independent professionals.
Admittedly, the shock-jock chatter of midweek generated by an England player's supposed comment that losing in the World Cup meant "£35,000 down the toilet" was an examination of whether sportsmen should be motivated by cash rather than honour. Johnson said yesterday: "If your motivation is money and that makes you play well, I have got no issues with that. That is a personality thing.
"It is not new. But you need to get the balance right in your life as a player. I think players are pretty much similar to what players have always been. The influences around them in society are certainly different."
Twickenham's disciplinary tsar Judge Jeff Blackett is busy hunting the source of the leak. The PGB were given the reports including England players' anonymous submissions on 16 November at a meeting in central London, and they began appearing in The Times seven days later. The Board are made of up of the chairman Ian Metcalfe and four RFU colleagues Rob Andrew, John Spencer, Jason Leonard and Stephen Brown (the RFU's de facto CEO until 16 December as Martyn Thomas sees out his notice); Premiership Rugby's Mark McCafferty, Quentin Smith, Peter Wheeler and Dave Thompson, the players association's Damian Hopley and Will James, and the Championship's Geoff Irvine. Copies may have gone elsewhere, of course. Page 136 of the Slaughter and May opus includes helpful advice on how to avoid leaks.
The apparent disconnection between the players and their England employers was highlighted by the disciplinary case during the World Cup when a female hotel worker in Dunedin tried to extract payment from three players – James Haskell, Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley – in return for keeping quiet over a case of alleged sexual harassment. It reached the stage when the RFU and their travelling lawyer, Richard Smith QC, told the players to take their own legal advice. Haskell is now considering suing the worker, Annabel Newton. Both that and Mike Tindall's heavy-drinking night out in Queenstown appeared prime examples of how not to follow the first rule of public relations: take control of a bad story and kill it as soon as possible. While Tindall awaits tomorrow's verdict on his appeal against a £25,000 fine (more than half of a senior player's World Cup earnings), we may reflect that to kill his story would have entailed Tindall to lay his private life bare a few weeks after marrying the Queen's granddaughter, Zara Phillips.
Sport, love and money: personal matter or the property of the nation? With the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, warning the RFU over their governance and millions of pounds of funding plus government support for the 2015 World Cup at his fingertips, the decisions to come in the next few months will be far-reaching.Reuse content