Nigel Melville has never been short of courage: during his playing days as a scrum-half armed with a pass so fast and precise that it was widely assumed to have been a gift from the rugby gods, he was routinely targeted by bully-boy forwards yet always came back for more. He was a bold tactician too – a virtue that paid handsome dividends when his imaginative selection inspired Wasps to a cup final victory over Newcastle in 1999. Even so, he is really sticking his neck out this time.
The Yorkshireman has signalled his intention to apply for the chief executive's role at the Rugby Football Union – a job up for grabs since last Thursday night, when the governing body's management board sliced John Steele into tiny pieces and fed him to the wolves, primarily because he failed to bring Sir Clive Woodward back to Twickenham as performance director.
Why would a dedicated professional in full control of his faculties take such a risk? There are surely better career prospects in the bottom circle of Dante's Inferno.
According to Melville, who either has the skin of a rhino or has recently bought himself a suit of armour, the job has its attractions. As he pointed out yesterday, he has been performing a similar role in United States rugby for the last four years and feels he has the necessary qualifications. Judging by the American team's performances in the current Churchill Cup tournament, there is not much fun to be had on the far side of the Atlantic. Perhaps he simply wants to be back in the thick of the union game, rather than endure another thin year on its outer margins.
Melville is the first candidate to make a public declaration of interest. Other names doing the rounds include Simon Halliday and Malcolm Wall, two men with strong Harlequins links who are said to have applied last time, only to have been beaten to the £320,000-a-year job by the unfortunate Steele.
Woodward has also been mentioned in connection with the vacancy, while still being heavily backed for the performance directorship. If he took on both roles, he would save the RFU a few bob and soften the financial blow, estimated at £1.5m, caused by last week's bloodletting.
Meanwhile, the Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips has finally completed his long-predicted move to Bayonne, the Basque club who narrowly missed out on Heineken Cup qualification for next season but are generally recognised as one of the most ambitious sides in the French Top 14. Phillips, who fell out with the Ospreys and wanted to move on, has agreed a two-year deal with an option for a 12-month extension.Reuse content