James Lawton: It's obvious. Give Andrew the boot and kick out Tindall appeal


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The Independent Online

If we didn't know the extent of the breakdown of values and judgement at the Rugby Football Union, we do now.

The clinching evidence came yesterday with the news that the fate of Mike Tindall's appeal against a £25,000 fine and dismissal from the list of elite England players will not be announced for another week.

Someone has borrowed Nero's fiddle while Twickenham burns.

Of more urgency, it seems, than dismissing with contempt the argument that Tindall has been in some way harshly treated for his utter and gut-wrenching failure to behave like a senior player and squad vice-captain, who had received the trust of his manager and former World Cup-winning team-mate Martin Johnson, is a frenzied attempt to identify the mole who leaked the three official reviews of England's disastrous performance at the World Cup.

We do not know the motives of the mole, whether they were noble or vengeful, but we do know the effect of his action. We do know that, until he acted, those responsible for the appalling lack of performance and character in New Zealand were maintaining a massive blanket of obfuscation. Until the bloodletting – which was especially graphic in the anonymous comments of the squad – management and players adopted the injured tone of the persecuted. If there had been errors, the reaction had been cruelly disproportionate.

Then the truth spilt out. It was an appalling one.

It was filled with dissension, indiscipline, greed, a total lack of respect between players and coaches and, in some ways most devastatingly, evidence that the national hero Johnson had utterly surrendered the leadership aura which had inspired his appointment.

Young players made a complaint that would have been not only unsayable but unthinkable before Tindall was allowed to remain in the squad, despite shocking public behaviour compounded by his unwillingness – or, as Johnson suggested so lamely at the time, inability – to give a truthful account of the night and morning on which he, effectively, sabotaged the English effort.

It was said that Johnson "lacked the bollocks" to take meaningful action against senior players who had produced such a derelict example. It was said that the old hands discouraged young team-mates from strenuous action in training sessions. Why? Because, they said, it was the despised behaviour of "keenos".

Each one of the reports, by the RFU, the players' association and the Premiership, to varying degrees paints the most astonishing – and sickening – picture of professional and moral collapse. Yet three days after the sport was shaken to its foundations, perhaps the grimmest reality of all is that the meaning of the revelations still appears utterly lost on the people who are supposedly required to begin the huge task of re-building a shattered culture.

Rob Andrew, the director of elite rugby, who was involved in the ruthless firing of previous coach Brian Ashton and the appointment of Johnson, without any public statement of doubt, admits to his responsibilities but is adamant that, unlike Johnson, he has no intention of resigning. Andrew has pointed out with some force that the responsibility for the meltdown in New Zealand was Johnson's. And of course he is right. But then what is the requirement of a director of elite rugby? It is, surely, to create something that is closer than 1,000 miles to the concept of elite rugby. What is elite rugby? It is a structured, keenly supervised area of the game where standards are set and an ethos is created.

The kind of thinking and attitude, in fact, which produced such a brilliant effort by a young Welsh team – and which over the years has been so relentlessly demanded by the rulers of the southern hemisphere powers of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Andrew's contention was that this was the responsibility of Johnson solely, but then you look at the extent of the problems that have been paraded this week, you weigh theabsolute lack of evidence pointing at any coherent resistance to such a palsied atmosphere around thenational team, and then you have to ask how on earth Andrew can justify his determination to hang on to his job.

There is, after all, such a thing as cause and effect. The cause of this rugby disaster is a massive lack of care and insight and decision-making; and who was charged with creating such an ambience of professionalism at the top of the game? It was Rob Andrew. His assignment was to set a tone, to create across the national game an understanding of what levels had to be achieved.

Now, English rugby, with its vast playing population and huge commercial possibilities, is more than the sick man of the world game. It is a study not just in failure but an unwillingness to face the truth and the consequences of its own mistakes.

Worst of all these last few days is the widespread absence of a basic kind of honesty and courage. Behind a screen of anonymity, we have heard voices raised in anger and disgust – but what has been so conspicuous has been the passion to stay in the shadows.

Even today, Simon Shaw, a forward of great quality and fine service, a man of such stature that he would command instant respect among his peers, is quoted as saying: "Had we reached the final, would these reviews have been an issue?"

Perhaps not but, of course, their contents would have still screamed for an airing. But then again there is another question. Would they have stopped the fiddling at Twickenham? The answer, for some time yet it seems, has to be no.

Greene does not quite hit target with views on gold

Athlete Dai Greene makes some legitimate reservations about the potential annexation of Olympic glory by a celebrity Great Britain football team, and other sports like tennis and – in the future – golf and rugby, which have their own pinnacles of achievement.

Yet in the process he cranks up wider fears about the hype-fest which very soon will be invading our lives.

This is especially so when he says: "When some guy wins a gold medal in badminton or swimming, they want it to be about them and their hard work and their story to get there ... something that might be overshadowed by what David Beckham had for breakfast."

It very well might, but when Greene won his world title in the 400 metres hurdles earlier this year he hardly lacked for recognition. That was as it should have been, of course, but whatever happened to the idea that the Olympic exhortation to rise faster, higher, stronger was aimed more at an individual sportsman or woman's desire to achieve something unforgettable than clearing the field of rival claimants for big headlines and maximum broadcast time?

In the latter competition, Beckham has been wearing the laurel leaf ever since he first appeared for Manchester United. At 36, after four years in the football wasteland of the MLS and at least half a decade since he was able to cut it consistently at a significant level of the game, he is now said to be negotiating a £10m-plus, 18-month contract with oil-rich Paris St-Germain. It is another reason for Greene not to get too exercised over the extremely unlikely possibility that Beckham will add to hisfortune with a few ounces of Olympic gold. Far better if a world champion accepts that he is the best judge of his own high achievement.

Villas-Boas won't be only one binned

Before Andre Villas-Boas arrived at Stamford Bridge there were dark reports that some of the older – if not wiser – heads in the dressing room were in no mood to revise their opinion of the former young sidekick of Jose Mourinho who used to hand out copious tactical reports on the opposition.

The story may be apocryphal but one of the old sweats was supposedly asked if the Villas-Boas files and videos were any good. "I don't know," was the alleged reply, "I always threw them straight into the bin."

If it all sounds too much of a cliché – you know, wet behind the ears, new kid on the block, and the veterans who have seen it all – it can be of little reassurance to Chelsea fans. They, too, have been this way before. This time, though, they surely know that if the coach goes down he is unlikely to be on his own.