RFU makes peace with Thomas apology


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The Independent Online

Ever so quietly, the Rugby Football Union yesterday ran down the curtain on a long-running and unusually bitter dispute with one of its own, the former management board chairman and acting chief executive Martyn Thomas, by publicly withdrawing allegations that Thomas had acted improperly during the chaotic search for a Twickenham performance director last year. The RFU apologised to him for drawing "conclusions" unsupported by sufficient evidence and thanked him for his "many positive achievements".

The RFU could not have drawn this line with less of a fanfare: initially, the announcement was buried so deeply on its website, an archaeologist might have struggled to find it. But the governing body will breathe more easily now it has made its peace with Thomas, a divisive figure whose latter years at the top end of rugby administration – he fell victim to the toxic fall-out from England's failed World Cup campaign in New Zealand and left Twickenham shortly before Christmas – were controversial in the extreme.

Following the abrupt end of John Steele's brief tenure as CEO a little over 14 months ago, the RFU set up a review into leaks of confidential information. Thomas, who openly supported the return of the 2003 World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward to Twickenham as performance director, was accused of "inappropriate contact with a candidate" and breaching confidentiality. Yesterday, the union withdrew those accusations.

Since challenging the RFU on these issues, Thomas has denied disclosing to the media the findings of a damning report into the 2011 World Cup shambles, although he admitted being the only one of 25 people with access to the documentation who refused to participate in an investigation into the source of the leak. He said he had not seen the report because it contained bad language and had been blocked by a filter on his computer.

Meanwhile, the great and good of the British and Irish Lions hierarchy were expected to confirm Warren Gatland as head coach for next summer's three-Test tour of Australia. The New Zealander has guided Wales to two Six Nations Grand Slams in the last five years and has been hot favourite for the job for months. He will be the first Wales coach to land the role since John Dawes in 1977 and only the second foreigner to be appointed. Graham Henry, his countryman, took charge of the last tour of Wallaby country in 2001.