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Rugby Union

Leeds lash out at RFU over Lancaster's England role

Stuart Lancaster, who has been a fixture at Leeds for 16 years, is to join the Rugby Football Union as head of elite player development. Leeds, who were promoted to the Premiership last year but finished bottom of the table this season, are not at all impressed by the manner of Lancaster's departure.

Gary Hetherington, the club's chief executive, said there had been no contact between Leeds and the RFU. "We are obviously disappointed, not only losing Stuart but with the RFU's method of recruitment," Hetherington said. "For a sport's governing body to target the most senior employee of one of its member clubs without any dialogue with that club is disappointing to say the least."

The RFU, which can't seem to avoid taking hospital passes – the Brian Ashton fiasco is still rumbling on – denies that there was anything underhand about the signing of Lancaster. It says the position was advertised and Lancaster applied.

"It was a very difficult decision," Lancaster said. "The club has been a huge part of my life. I can think of no other role I would have left the club for. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It allows me to work and coach at the top end of the international game and to develop senior and young players to play for England."

Lancaster added that his appointment was so swift as "I had already made many plans for Leeds next season".

The club has not had time to formally discuss a successor although it could pave the way for the return of Phil Davies. Davies, dismissed last week as head coach of Llanelli, spent six years at Headingley. Although Leeds were relegated in 2006, after which Davies took over from Gareth Jenkins at the Scarlets, he had a good working relationship in the north.

Lancaster takes over from Conor O'Shea, who has joined the English Institute of Sport. "The only change we've made is to remove Conor's job title of director of the National Academy," said Rob Andrew, England's elite director of rugby.

Lancaster's last game at Leeds will be at Headingley Carnegie on Saturday when they host Wasps. Tonight Wasps, who are chasing a play-off place, rest Lawrence Dallaglio for the visit to Newcastle; the Falcons have omitted Jonny Wilkinson.