Brian Smith, the England attack coach ferociously attacked by his own players – confidentially at first, then publicly as a result of the latest and most serious of a long line of Rugby Football Union leaks – bowed to the inevitable yesterday and resigned, thereby following the manager, Martin Johnson, through the Twickenham door marked "exit". Rob Andrew, the director of elite rugby attacked by virtually everyone within the game and increasing numbers of people outside it, did the opposite, which was every bit as predictable.
"The reality of my job is that I am not the England team manager," Andrew said, entirely reasonably, in an interview with the BBC. "I absolutely accept responsibility for what is going on here, but does it mean I'm going to resign? No, I'm not. Does it mean it's all broken? No, it doesn't." Some might feel that last comment to have been slightly less reasonable, for as the former international outside-half admitted, the RFU was now at "rock bottom, the lowest of the low".
Things were a touch busy at Twickenham, with some officials engaged in hunting down the individual responsible for leaking three reports into the World Cup shambles in New Zealand and others ensuring that one of the players at the centre of those reports, the disgraced centre Mike Tindall, could begin his appeal against a £25,000 fine – imposed earlier this month by the governing body – in a degree of privacy. The hearing was moved to a secret location, with the union insisting that no details of the findings would be revealed until today.
Tindall's drunken antics during a Johnson-sanctioned night out in the South Island adventure sports resort of Queenstown early in the tournament led to vast swathes of negative publicity that helped derail England's attempt to recapture the Webb Ellis Trophy, but the bad news generated by the leaking of players' comments about the management and each other has caused far greater damage. Acutely aware of this, Andrew described the leak as "disgusting" and added: "I am absolutely shattered by it. This can't be allowed to continue."
He said he had no idea who the culprit might be, although there were suggestions last night that Judge Jeff Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer, was making speedy progress with his investigation. "I wish I knew who it was," Andrew remarked. "We have to find out because it's just not right. The review process has been betrayed and it's unacceptable.
"We asked players to give us information in good faith and when you're given information like this, you have a huge responsibility to use it correctly because you're putting people's reputations at risk. You're always going to have extreme views expressed about coaches and preparation in a process like this, but those views have to be put in context." Andrew clearly felt that the leaked material, as presented to the public, had precious little in the way of context attached to it.
"Things have happened that should not have happened and I've considered my position," he continued. "Of course I have. There's been soul-searching the whole time over these last tough 12 months. But I don't have to resign. It's up to other people to decide whether I stay or go, but I know where we are as a department, there are some big decisions to be made over the next few weeks and it's my job to move it forward."
Smith's resignation surprised no one. The one senior coach appointed by Johnson – the forwards specialist John Wells, the scrum expert Graham Rowntree and the defence strategist Mike Ford were already in place when the manager took over in 2008, and he was happy to keep them on – the 45-year-old Australian was heavily criticised in the Rugby Players' Association review presented to the Professional Game Board eight days ago.
"I feel England have made great strides in the last three years," he said, combatively, "and although the World Cup was a massive disappointment, we won 10 of our last 13 games." It was pretty much the same valedictory message as Johnson had given – pretty much the first time two members of the red-rose back-room team have sung from the same hymnsheet in three and a half years, if the comments of the players are to be believed.
Meanwhile, club rugby returns tonight with games at Worcester, who face Bath, and Sale, who take on Exeter. There have been many occasions in recent seasons when Twickenham's top brass have looked down their bespectacled noses at mere club rugby, considering it low-rent compared to the international version. Suddenly, the Premiership fraternity are standing on rugby's moral high ground, mocking the very idea that they are second-class citizens. Two good games this evening will be two more than England played in New Zealand.Reuse content