Thomas given the boot as 'scapegoat' Tindall lets rip


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The Independent Online

Another routine day at world sport's biggest cabaret, otherwise known as the Rugby Football Union, ended with the sudden departure of the most controversial figure in domestic sporting governance, the acting chief executive Martyn Thomas, and a fierce blast of moral outrage from Mike Tindall, of all people on God's earth.

The England centre Tindall, reinstated to the elite player squad by Thomas on Monday night, after being ejected as punishment for his drunken excesses during the recent World Cup campaign in New Zealand, released a statement lambasting the governing body for mistreating him during the disciplinary process. Yes, really.

"While I accept the decision made by the appeal panel," said the Gloucester midfielder, who also had a £25,000 penalty reduced by 40 per cent, "I still maintain the level of fine is not in line with other RFU disciplinary cases. I am deeply disappointed by the way the RFU has chosen to handle the situation and I have felt throughout the process that my case was made unnecessarily political and public... and that I ended up being a scapegoat."

He went on to emphasise that he accepted his share of reponsibility for events in the South Island resort of Queenstown, the night after England's narrow victory in the opening pool match with Argentina. There again, he would have been hard pressed not to accept it. His misbehaviour at a late-night bar, where security cameras captured him canoodling with a blonde while in a state of advanced inebriation, was reported worldwide, not least because he had just married into the royal family, and was one of the principal factors that sent England's tournament challenge into meltdown.

"I drank too much," he admitted. "It unfortunately created a level of media interest that was an unwanted distraction for myself, my team-mates, Martin Johnson [the England manager, who resigned last week] and his staff. I can again only apologise unreservedly for this."

Drummed out of the Test squad on his return by the director of elite rugby Rob Andrew and the Union's company secretary and legal officer Karena Vleck, he clawed back significant ground last week when Thomas, very much at loggerheads with Andrew in Twickenham's recent committee-room wars, heard his appeal.

The decision to reinstate Tindall and save him £10,000 into the bargain was announced on Monday night and sent significant numbers of RFU council members into a blind fury. Complaints were sent to Paul Murphy, the chairman of the governing body, and Ian Metcalfe, the influential management board member who chairs the increasingly influential Professional Game Board. Within hours, it was confirmed the CEO would leave the union immediately rather than on 16 December – the date originally set when Thomas was effectively stripped of his many and varied rugby roles earlier this month.

Stephen Brown, chief financial officer, will perform the chief executive duties until a permanent appointment is made – possibly before Christmas, although at least one candidate from the commercial world is thought to have distanced himself from the job as a result of the torrents of bad publicity raining down on the RFU as a result of England's poor performance in New Zealand and the hugely damaging leaks of confidential reports into those failures last week.

Predictably, there was no reflection of the squabbling and backbiting at Twickenham in the RFU's announcement of Thomas' departure. Murphy thanked him for his time and effort and praised him for his success in winning the hosting rights for the 2015 World Cup, while Thomas himself said it was "entirely logical" that Brown should take over. "I have every confidence he will provide the stability and leadership needed," said the outgoing grandee. Well, someone has to.

In the midst of all this, there was another twist in the sorry tale that is Twickenham. The independent counsel Charles Flint QC, engaged by the RFU to consider whether any disciplinary charges might be brought against Thomas over the deeply contentious dismissal of John Steele from the CEO position last season, found the governing body had no grounds to do anything of the sort.

This is undeniably a victory for Thomas over another of his political rivals, the union's chief disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett, who, during a debate on a vote of no confidence in Thomas back in September, had indicated there was sufficient evidence for charges to be laid. It remains to be seen whether this finding will be used by Thomas against his RFU enemies over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Wales are in a much happier place. Warren Gatland will have the backbone of his tournament side available to him for this weekend's one-off Test with the Wallabies in Cardiff, with only a handful of first-choice players – the centre Jonathan Davies, the scrum-half Mike Phillips, the prop Adam Jones and the lock Luke Charteris – missing through injury or unavailability.

Scott Williams will pair up with Jamie Roberts in Davies' absence while Lloyd Williams starts in the No 9 shirt. Scott Andrews plays in the front row with the highly effective if injury-prone Ospreys lock Ian Evans reclaiming a place in the engine room.

"As we remember the highs and lows of the World Cup, the focus must now be to build for the next four years – both towards the immediate future of the Six Nations and onwards towards the 2015 World Cup," said Gatland, who has called the uncapped Cardiff Blues back Alex Cuthbert on to the bench alongside the Ospreys outside-half Dan Biggar. The Lions Test hooker Matthew Rees is also among the replacements.

Revolving door: England upheaval

Gone! Martin Johnson

Resigned as manager last week after an unstable 43-month tenure that finally collapsed in New Zealand. No successor is likely to emerge before the start of the Six Nations in February.

Gone! Martyn Thomas

Ended his long association with the RFU yesterday after years of committee-room upheaval that left the Twickenham carpets soaked in blood. A new CEO is expected by Christmas.

Going? Rob Andrew

The director of elite rugby is still in place, but he is dodging more bullets than John Wayne. He has significant support at the RFU, but Sir Clive Woodward hovers.

16 November Martin Johnson resigns as England manager following his side's poor showing at the World Cup but RFU director of elite rugby, Rob Andrew, rejects calls that he, too, should quit. Johnson had 38 games in charge.

17 November World Cup-winning England coach Clive Woodward criticises the RFU for failing to support the inexperienced Johnson in his first role in management. Woodward says Johnson should have been given a "mentor" to assist him.

21 November Ironically, amid all the gloom the RFU announces a record £8.7m profit in the last financial year – a marked improvement on the £1.1m loss recorded in 2009-10, thanks mainly to increased match-day revenue.

22 November Triumphant New Zealand coach Graham Henry rules himself out as a candidate to replace Johnson. The World Cup winner was considered a front-runner for English rugby's top job, but says he has little desire to live in the northern hemisphere again.

23 November A damning confidential report, in which players gave their opinions on the World Cup fiasco, is leaked. Coaches were criticised for amateur methods, while some players were accused of focusing on financial gain.

24 November Rob Andrew admits the RFU has "hit rock bottom" with the revelations, saying changes need to be made within the organisation. The attack coach Brian Smith resigns after being described as "way out of his depth" in the leaked report.

25 November It is revealed that three players were encouraged by the RFU's head of media to pay a female Dunedin hotel worker "hush money" following an incident of "lewd behaviour".

28 November Mike Tindall returns to the elite player squad after successfully appealing his exclusion.

Yesterday Chief executive, Martyn Thomas, departs the RFU with immediate effect, also leaving his role as chairman of the organising committee for the 2015 World Cup.

Will Unwin