Woodward's England rejection leaves the RFU looking clueless
Sir Clive Woodward, the architect of England's triumph at the 2003 World Cup, will not be returning to Twickenham as the Rugby Football Union's performance director ahead of the forthcoming global gathering in New Zealand – or, it now seems likely, at any point before the 2015 tournament, which will be staged on these shores. Woodward's decision to continue his work with the British Olympic Association, confirmed yesterday after a week of embarrassing RFU infighting, leaves the governing body looking less like a tight-knit group of ambitious forward-thinkers than a laughably dysfunctional coalition of the defeated.
Precisely a week after John Steele, the Twickenham chief executive, was railroaded into a humiliating U-turn over the precise details of the performance director's role – having watered down the initial job description by removing the affairs of senior England team from the successful applicant's remit, he was forced to water it up again inside 48 hours – the chairman Martyn Thomas suffered an equally damaging blow to his authority. An unashamed Woodward supporter, he staked a good deal of his political capital on luring him away from the BOA. This very public failure weakens him significantly.
Even though Woodward was initially keen to return to rugby and entered into informal discussions with Thomas and others, he made no formal application for the job in either of its guises. When push came to shove, he wasted little time in opting to stay put. The BOA, a little over a year out from London 2012, or the RFU, notoriously prone to boardroom turf wars and home to scores of long-serving council members who still resent the bridge-burning manner of his departure from the England job in 2004? It was not, in truth, much of a choice.
Meanwhile, the Bath chief executive Nick Blofeld revealed that Danny Cipriani – the outside-half seen by some as the lost genius of English rugby and by others as a pain in the butt – has approached the West Country club about a possible return to the Premiership. Cipriani, who moved to Australia last year in an effort to recapture some half-decent form, is in bad odour with the Melbourne Rebels after a couple of late-night escapades, while Bath are in such dire need of a top-class No 10 that they recently threw God's amount of money at the stellar All Black stand-off Dan Carter. While Carter is a no-go, the Cipriani option might have some legs.
"We have been contacted by Cipriani's representatives, but he's not top of our list," Blofeld said. "We don't yet know what is happening in Australia and don't want to go off-strategy and sign somebody at the last minute. But he's a very talented player, someone we have looked at before and may look at again."
As for Carter, he has signed a new deal with his home province of Canterbury and will continue to play Super 15 rugby with the Crusaders, although there is an option for a sabbatical at some point after the World Cup. "I was quite flattered by some of the figures I was getting out of France and the United Kingdom," said the world's best back. "There were a few good offers... and Bath were in there. I was pretty humbled by how much they were prepared to spend."
While Bath will be one of England's representatives in next season's Heineken Cup – Leicester, Saracens, Gloucester, Northampton and London Irish are also done and dusted – Harlequins must lift the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup in Cardiff tonight to make the cut. They start as favourites against Stade Français, who might easily have been European champions at least once over the last dozen years but are in decline. That being said, the Parisians are in a similar position to the Londoners in terms of qualification for the elite competition, and neither will want to end their season down and out.
If Quins are at full strength, their opponents are without some big names – no Mauro Bergamasco, no Dimitri Szarzewski. However, no side able to include Mathieu Bastareaud, Lionel Beauxis, Sergio Parisse and two England internationals in Tom Palmer and James Haskell are obviously a pushover.
With Woodward a no-go, who might fill the performance director role?
The sophisticated South African will sever his coaching connection with Italy after this year's World Cup and is seen by some RFU members as the perfect candidate.
The former Leeds coach is already an RFU employee, having been appointed head of elite player development in 2008. A definite runner.
English cricket's managing director was a schoolboy rugby international and is thought to be a popular option among some Twickenhamites.
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