Premiership officials critical of RFU

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The Independent Online

Premiership Rugby executives felt compelled to apologise to the New Zealand Rugby Union for the behaviour of the England team during the World Cup "in the absence of any contrition" from Twickenham.

England's ill-fated campaign was dogged by off-field controversies ranging from a drunken night out in Queenstown to Manu Tuilagi being detained by police for jumping off a ferry into Auckland Harbour.

Three players were forced to apologise to a member of their hotel staff in Dunedin while the Rugby Football Union expect to receive a letter of complaint from Land Rover in relation to an incident on a sponsor's day.

On the field, coaches Dave Alred and Paul Stridgeon were banned for one match after illegally switching the balls during England's pool match against Romania.

The RFU's legal officer Karena Vleck will investigate all allegations of player misconduct during the tournament, which ended last weekend with a 19-12 quarter-final defeat to France.

Premiership Rugby chairman Quentin Smith, who is in New Zealand with chief executive Mark McCafferty, said: "They have performed badly on and off the field as a representative body in the eyes of the International Rugby Board and in the eyes of the host nation.

"Mark and I found the opportunity to apologise to the All Blacks, to the management, the chairman and chief executive in the absence of any contrition.

"It is not our team, we are here as representatives of the Premiership and all the players but we felt embarrassed there hadn't been an acknowledgement that the event had been tarnished by bad behaviour.

"They thanked us. It was not a big statement. It doesn't have to be very much but it has to demonstrate acknowledgement of what has gone on - not the 'we'll sort it out when we get home' and 'hey, rugby players go out for a drink'."

Smith and McCafferty have been enraged by the RFU's decision to engage Fran Cotton to undertake an external review of England's World Cup performance.

McCafferty accused the RFU of not running the game in a professional manner and Smith described their actions as "panic management".

RFU acting chief executive Martyn Thomas, in their view, had unilaterally cut across the post-World Cup review protocol that had been agreed by the Professional Game Board, which runs elite rugby in England and contains representatives from both organisations.

Premiership Rugby have kept quiet as the RFU lurched from one crisis to the next in recent months - but this was the final straw.

"Our concern is that this is very symptomatic of the union at the moment. It is a union in some crisis," said McCafferty.

"It is indicative I think of a certain degree of panic almost. You have got to have faith and confidence in the process.

"The PGB is the only body where the players, the clubs and England come together.

"We have been working hard behind the scenes to make that a diligent and efficient body that is decisive and discreet in the way it operates.

"When we have an agreed process and reached a specific agreement then we have to comment because we have a union at the moment that is not managing that situation appropriately.

"It is about time the Rugby Football Union acknowledged that the professional game has to be managed by professionals. End of story."

Cotton's position as the chair of the review panel has been brought into question after he branded England's World Cup campaign a "failure" and criticised the lack of progress made since Martin Johnson took charge in 2008.

Part of Cotton's brief will be to recommend changes to the England management structure.

"We have yet another review with people who are already commenting heavily in the press disclosing their hand on certain issues so how can that possibly be independent, when people are expressing their conclusions?" McCafferty said.

The RFU have confirmed that Cotton will continue to lead the review panel, that will also feature one independent non-rugby elite performance expert.