The great Twickenham witch-hunt finally ended yesterday, without a ceremonial burning. Rob Andrew – rugby's No 1 bogeyman since the end of England's laughably inept World Cup challenge in New Zealand, a campaign that was led not by Andrew but by Martin Johnson – survived a major threat to his continued employment when he was formally appointed to a new job by the Rugby Football Union's management board. What is more, there is now no prospect of Sir Clive Woodward playing a role in red-rose affairs in the foreseeable future.
Andrew is now the Professional Rugby Director, with responsibility for the entire elite end of the England operation, up to – but, crucially, not including – the Test team. That will be run exclusively by a new head coach, to be appointed before the three-Test trip to South Africa in June. Senior Twickenham figures say they will scour the world for the right man, but that man appears to be staring them in the face already. Nick Mallett, the former Springboks coach, is a very hot favourite indeed.
Attacks on Andrew since the global gathering in All Black country have intensified in recent days, but Ian Metcalfe, chairman of the increasingly influential Professional Game Board, mounted a strong defence of the former Lions outside-half when he emerged from yesterday's long and urgent management board debate. Asked whether Andrew had been in any way exonerated for his perceived failings on the England front, Metcalfe commented: "Rob has accepted responsibility for his share of the things that went wrong, but one of the ways we as a union failed Rob was in not presenting his role with sufficient clarity.
"There is definitely a perception issue here: we are conscious of the views of the average rugby supporter, many of whom don't understand what he does. We discussed this at great length. Why is Rob still in a job? Because he has done a lot of great things for the union over an extended period of time."
Woodward, the World Cup-winning coach in 2003, had been heavily linked with a return to Twickenham in a beefed-up version of Andrew's previous role of director of elite rugby. Metcalfe scotched that idea in no uncertain terms by stating categorically that the new head coach would report directly to the chief executive, pretty much as Mallett suggested when quizzed on England's management structure earlier this week. "None of our discussion was about Clive," Metcalfe said. "He's not a current employee of the union. He did a fantastic job in the past, but whether he has a job to do in the future is purely hypothetical. It's not something we talked about at all."
Together with the union's chief financial officer, Stephen Brown, who yesterday succeeded the ousted Martyn Thomas as acting CEO and gave an exceptionally assured performance on his first public appearance, Metcalfe apologised for the long spell of unmitigated trouble and strife at the top end of the English game. "It's time to be humble, because we have a lot to be humble about," he said. "The last 11 months have been difficult: there has been a sense of things spiralling out of control. We've made a lot of mistakes. I've made lots of mistakes by participating in decisions I've come to regret and I've wondered whether I should resign.
"But it's not all broken – there are lots of good things out there. With the proper support, I think we have a lot of young players who can really build towards the home World Cup in 2015. They have a huge thirst for success. Indeed, it was many of the younger players who were most disappointed by the things that happened at the World Cup, both in terms of preparation and performance."
Metcalfe said a new full-time CEO should be in place by the turn of the year, adding that a caretaker coaching team would be appointed as a matter of urgency. "As for the head coach," he said, "we don't have a shortlist. I was the one who spoke to Nick Mallett after Martin Johnson's resignation and I hope to speak to him again. Yes, you'd expect him to be on the wider list of candidates. But we want this to be an open process. We want to give everyone who feels they can contribute the chance to make their case."
The coach will be just that: a coach, rather than a non-coaching selectorial figurehead like Johnson. He will be aided and abetted by a manager, almost certainly a man with a background in international rugby, who will handle all non-playing matters affecting the Test team. Ironically enough, this was precisely the model suggested by Brian Ashton before he was drummed out of the head coach's job to make way for the ill-considered appointment of Johnson in 2008.