Ruck and Maul: A knight to remember if Woodward lands top RFU job

The Rugby Football Union – patron HM The Queen, vice-patron Prince Harry – take pride in having friends in high places.

So there must have been a frisson at Twickenham on Friday morning when Sir Clive Woodward was at the North Gate of Westminster Abbey answering questions about a possible return to his former employer as performance director.

Sir Clive's non-denial denial – "It is media speculation... I am very happy with my job at the British Olympic Association", he told the BBC on his way to the Royal wedding and an afternoon party for 600 guests at Buckingham Palace – will be cleared up soon enough when the job created by the RFU chief executive, John Steele, last January is filled, probably later this month.

Ruck and Maul understands someone who has not applied could be appointed, which would include Woodward. The good knight would be far and away the most high-profile performance director in rugby. Wales have Joe Lydon, the former England backs coach. Someone called Jon Roberts does it for the Rugby Football League.

Thus far Steele has relied on advertising and word of mouth to try to find the requisite three candidates for interview. The next step, if the field is not full, could be to use a recruitment firm, as the RFU did when hiring Steele from UK Sport – a public body where he was accustomed to recruitment being seen to be done properly.

Time for an NFL coach?

The great unwashed, who care less about personality and more about the new director's remit to create a pool of talent to win the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, may wonder why there is a dearth of rugby candidates.

Is it because the grapevine has suggested all along that Woodward would get it? Or because hardly anyone in rugby fits the "person specification" (viewable via the RFU website)?

Maybe one follows from the other. Wouldn't it be sensible to look outside the sport? If Martin Johnson – whose contract with England is up this year – stays on to 2015 and the World Cup in England, he will work closely with the new director, who would be his line manager. Johnson is a devotee of American football, and Ruck and Maul imagines he would be thrilled if a candidate emerged from the NFL rather than from his own backyard in the form of his old coach Woodward.

What gridiron could teach us...

Talking of the NFL, the Aviva Premiership last weekend staged what were effectively matches of four quarters, not two halves, with drinks breaks to deal with the mini-heatwave. TV executives must have been licking their lips, although no adverts popped up during the delays.

American football is decades ahead of rugby in its rationalisation as a professional sport. The Leicester Tigers chairman, Peter Tom, recently mused that a video official could assist the referee by spotting dodgy practice in the line-out. The NFL have seven referees on the field.

They also have franchises, a shorter season and none of those pesky spectator-unfriendly aspects such as scrummaging and passing backwards. Way to go, rugby union?


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