Woodward scents role in RFU shake-up

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The Independent Online

It is four years since Rob Andrew beat Sir Clive Woodward to Twickenham's top rugby job in a contest so muddied by political manoeuvring that it would have been no surprise to discover Peter Mandelson, the Prince of Darkness himself, at the heart of the process. Now, there is at least an outside chance of Woodward returning to the scene of his greatest sporting triumph, effectively at Andrew's expense. What goes around comes around.

As a result of a radical restructuring of the Rugby Football Union's management structure by the new chief executive John Steele, the governing body will over the next few days advertise for a performance director who will have a direct influence on, and control over, the running of the senior England team, as well as the second-tier, age-group and sevens squads. Andrew's current role as director of elite rugby will end the moment an appointment is made.

The RFU expects applications from a number of big hitters rich in international experience – Eddie Jones, the former Wallaby coach, threw his hat in the ring even before the details of Steele's reorganisation were known – but as Andrew has been invited, rather pointedly, to apply for a different job entirely, he will not be a candidate for the position carrying the highest profile. The former England outside-half will spend the next few days deciding whether to chase the new broad-brush role of operations director.

Woodward's position is as fascinating as it is sensitive. It is not as if he is kicking his heels at the moment: as deputy chef de mission of Team GB, he is up to his neck in the business of working towards next year's London Olympics. But he still cares deeply about English rugby and continues to give occasional voice to his frustration at what he considers the wasted legacy of the World Cup triumph he engineered so brilliantly in 2003. There is a part of him that craves a return to his first sporting love, and a return to Twickenham in a powerful position such as the one framed by Steele would right the wrongs of his failed candidacy in 2006.

If the governing body is keen on an Englishman taking on the performance director's job – and the RFU is not exactly a hotbed of internationalism, despite the presence of the Australian coach Brian Smith among the current back-room staff and sundry New Zealanders and South Africans in the Test team – there are very few figures of Woodward's stature on the shopping list. Indeed, it might be argued that there are no serious alternatives at all.

Whatever happens on this front over the next nine months – the amount of time Steele is willing to devote to the recruitment process – the top end of the RFU executive branch will soon look very different. Steele is streamlining the rugby operation: there will be a third director, this one in charge of "development", working alongside the performance and operations specialists. In addition, the union will appoint new commercial and financial officers. A number of senior staff have already left Twickenham, and many believe Andrew will join them sooner rather than later. Yesterday, he was giving little away. "Change is never easy," he said, "but there are some exciting opportunities and challenges ahead. I will be considering the role of rugby operations director in the coming weeks."

Steele described his new tripartite director structure as "hugely important to the future of the game", adding: "This is about looking forward and not back and ensuring we have the best people in place... as we prepare for a home World Cup in 2015."