Martyn Thomas, the Rugby Football Union management board chairman whose role in the trouserless farce currently being played out at Twickenham is likely to come under serious scrutiny over the next few weeks, yesterday ruled out any prospect of Sir Clive Woodward returning to the fold on a part-time basis, splitting his hours between oval-ball affairs and the broad spectrum of sports he oversees in his current role with the British Olympic Association.
"I don't believe we can have a part-timer doing the job, even if he were to come on board full-time at a later stage," Thomas said in a radio interview. "We need a man who is 100 per cent committed and we need to get on with it. We've lost a lot of time." Asked by one of Woodward's principal media cheerleaders whether he would make a move for the 2003 World Cup-winning coach were he to make himself available immediately, the chairman was equally categorical. "If that were the case, Clive and I would need to speak," he replied. "He knows my phone number. I have huge respect for the man." And so the ball recrosses the net and lands, once again, in the court of the knight of the realm.
Woodward has always been interested in taking on the role of performance director – a job created in January by John Steele, the RFU chief executive sacked by Thomas and his management board colleagues on Thursday night – even if, for reasons of his own, he has declined to make a formal application. However, Steele's botched handling of the process, not least his fateful decision to downgrade the job description by removing the England senior team from its remit, persuaded Woodward to make a renewed public commitment to the BOA, through to next year's London Games. Last Friday night, he indicated that there was "no change at all" in his position, despite Steele's dismissal.
The chairman has played a long game in attempting to lure Woodward back to Twickenham and, having seen off two chief executives during the course of it, Francis Baron being the first, he is in no mood to give up just yet. Indeed, Thomas is now his own chief executive, if only on an interim basis – a fact that speaks volumes for the survival instincts of a man who was under severe threat of facing a no-confidence motion from the RFU council in the hours following Steele's departure.
But Thomas and the other 11 remaining members of the 13-man management board are not yet out of the thicket. They will be subjected to the rigours of an independent inquiry into the pratfalls and half-witteries of recent months, and even if the top brass survive its findings, they will still be faced with the thorny problem of the vacant performance directorship. It beggars belief but, even now, no one quite knows what the title is supposed to mean. Indeed, Rob Andrew – the man who effectively did the job as director of elite rugby until Steele declared the role redundant – has been asked to participate in a review of the matter. Andrew is not the biggest wisecracker on earth, but he recognises a beautiful irony when he sees it.
According to Thomas, no appointment will be made until after the World Cup in New Zealand, which ends in October. A new chief executive is likely to be hired more quickly and there are already some names in the frame, among them two former Harlequins in Simon Halliday and Malcolm Wall. Halliday, who played on the England wing in the 1991 World Cup final, is currently involved at Esher, while Wall shouldered the burden of the Quins chairmanship after the fake-blood scandal of 2009 and has held senior posts in international media organisations.
While Thomas was making it blindingly obvious that he still had Woodward at the top of his list of potential recruits for the PD role, he was asked how Martin Johnson, the England manager, might react. "I've spoken to Martin and he's very clear: he'll do what is in the best interests of England," the chairman said. It was an interesting response – one that fell some way short of suggesting that the great second-row forward and captain from Leicester was somersaulting with joy at the prospect.
Thomas emphasised the need for a high-powered performance director by noting that England were "sixth" in the world rankings, adding that this was not good enough. It was hardly a ringing endorsement of Johnson, whose appointment the chairman himself engineered in deeply controversial fashion after the 2008 Six Nations Championship, at the expense of Brian Ashton.
In fact, England are fifth in the rankings. How unusual for the RFU not to know where the hell it is.