Chris Hewett: In defence of the sure-footed 'British Blatter'

He may have more job titles than friends but Rob Andrew was not at fault for the World Cup shambles

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The Independent Online

They are calling him the "British Blatter", which in this sporting age is pretty much as insulting as it gets. Rob Andrew, the man with more job titles than friends, opened the door of his Twickenham office to selected media types yesterday and gave them a long account of his roles and responsibilities in running the elite end of English rugby – roles and responsibilities that legions of critics believe should be handed to someone, perhaps anyone, else. It was a typically sure-footed move from a man whose ability to mount charm offensives and firefighting operations simultaneously has been a mark of his career.

Not that the charm is permanently in evidence. Seven days previously, sitting alongside Martin Johnson as the World Cup-winning captain confirmed his decision to end a rather less successful spell as manager of the national team, he had misjudged the moment and the mood, appearing aggressive and defensive at one and the same time – not to mention pompous and patronising. This was atypical of Andrew the sporting administrator, but when we think back to Andrew the player, his demeanour seemed less of an aberration. As an outside-half on the "goody two-shoes" side of the great No 10 divide that separated him from the bolshy counter-culturalist Stuart Barnes, he occasionally showed a capacity to get down and dirty if that was what it took. Nicknamed "squeaky", as in squeaky-clean, he was never entirely spotless.

And now, he finds himself in a real scrap. If the "British Blatter" tag is a trifle harsh – after all, Andrew has not presided over anything as daft as the awarding of a football World Cup to Qatar or as alarming as the vote-buying scandal at the heart of Fifa, or made himself look a prize idiot by saying all the wrong things about racism in sport – he has this much in common with Sepp the Shameless, high priest of stickability: he considers the idea of resignation to be more fanciful than that of an England team leaving New Zealand with its reputation enhanced.

He was at it again yesterday, refusing point-blank to bow to mounting pressure from the rugby public – some of it generated by supporters of Sir Clive Woodward, who was beaten by Andrew to the director of elite rugby job in 2006 and would like nothing better than to return to Twickenham in his stead, but by no means all of it. Yet was England's embarrassing foul-up at the World Cup really his fault? Would the delivery of his head on a silver platter solve anything? The answers to those questions are "no" and "anyone's guess".

It is not a fact widely appreciated by the English rugby public, but Andrew was far from keen on Johnson's appointment in the first place. The sacking of Brian Ashton as head coach in the spring of 2008 was an RFU management board production, directed by the chairman, Martyn Thomas: Andrew merely did his masters' bidding in persuading Johnson, against his better judgement, to come on board. A brave man would have refused to have anything to do with that despicably mishandled episode, but then, it takes a very brave man to turn his back on a job said to be worth about £250,000 a year.

Once Johnson was installed, Andrew handed over the running of the England Test team lock, stock and barrel. It was the way Johnson wanted it, and the way Andrew was happy to proceed. Why wouldn't he, when he could concentrate on other areas of his vast elite department – the second-string Saxons, the age-group teams, the women's side, the seven-a-side set-up, the referees, the coach development group, the sports science and medicine projects – secure in the knowledge that the one section likely to go belly-up in a big way was someone else's problem?

Of course, he can be criticised for sidestepping the Jonah Lomu part of his job and tackling all the bits that posed no threat to him: indeed, Andrew admitted yesterday that he should have been far more involved in matters at international level. But would Johnson have been happy to share the key decision-making moments with anyone not of his own choosing? Please. As the manager said at one point during the World Cup, as the disciplinary wheels were leaving the wagon two at a time and he was asked if he might appreciate a little support from the RFU: "This is my team and it's my responsibility. I'm from the RFU, I'm the official face. It's the way I've decided to handle it. They don't tell me what to do."

If Andrew is sacked by the management board at some point over the next week – and in professional sport, witch-hunts on this scale rarely end without a ceremonial burning – he will have reason to reflect negatively on his evasive, not to say slippery approach to aspects of a job that demands a willingness to take responsibility for the mistakes of others. But he will also wonder whether anyone else could have delivered the agreement that has brought the governing body and the Premiership clubs closer together than at any point in the 15-year history of professional rugby in England. The answer to that one is not in dispute. And it is very definitely not in the affirmative.

Reliant Rob: Andrew factfile

Born 18 February, 1963, Richmond.

* Enjoyed brief cricket career before turning to rugby and joining Nottingham in 1985. Left for Wasps two years later and helped them win the Courage League in 1990. Scored 759 points in 75 games but moved to Newcastle in 1995. Awarded an MBE, he lifted the Premiership in 1998 before retiring a year later.

* Won 71 caps for England between 1985 and 1997, scoring 396 points. Played in three World Cups and helped win three Five Nations. Also went on two Lions tours.

* Left Newcastle to take over as RFU Director of Elite Rugby in 2006, before becoming Rugby Operations Director at Twickenham in April this year.

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