Less than 48 hours after declaring his intention to fight for the right to continue as England's head coach, Andy Robinson yesterday swallowed the bitterest pill by accepting that his stewardship of the national team had run its course. Placed under immense pressure to resign by leading figures at the Rugby Football Union, much of which flew in the face of accepted procedures relating to personnel issues at the top level, the former Bath flanker entered into severance talks that were expected to be concluded within 24 hours.
There was no clear indication from Twickenham whether Robinson had agreed to tender his resignation, or would ultimately be sacked. Only this much was evident: when England play their next international match, against Scotland at Twickenham in early February, the architect of the forward pack that drove England towards World Cup glory three years ago will not be with them.
Robinson left Bath, whom he coached to the Heineken Cup title in 1998, to join England under the then unknighted Clive Woodward at the end of the 2000 Six Nations Championship. His first match as forwards' coach ended in a narrow defeat by the Springboks in Pretoria; his second, in Bloemfontein a week later, saw England record only their third win on South African soil. He was at the heart of the World Cup effort, and was good enough to coach the Lions forwards in Australia in 2001 and New Zealand four years later.
Yet his time as head coach of England, which began in the aftermath of Woodward's dramatic resignation in the late summer of 2004, was unproductive. Undermined by a raft of high-profile retirements - Martin Johnson's the most prominent among them - and a series of injuries that ripped the heart from the team, he struggled to establish continuity or generate momentum.
Even though he survived the so-called Day of the Long Knives last April, when the RFU broke up the coaching team initially put in place by Woodward, the decision to award responsibility for the forwards to John Wells and to appoint Rob Andrew as élite director of rugby diluted his influence over an operation he was meant to be running.
Robinson had hoped to be given time to write a report into the events of the four-week autumn international programme, during which England were beaten three times, and present it to the Club England committee at Twickenham on Thursday week. In this, he was supported by a number of Club England delegates, who insisted that their committee's terms of reference gave them the right to consider whether or not Robinson should be replaced. Yesterday, it emerged that Francis Baron, the RFU chief executive, and Andrew had acted to accelerate the process.
As a result, Robinson did not travel to Paris to attend a three-day World Cup management meeting. Vivienne Brown, who performs many of the England team's administrative duties, will now be the RFU's sole representative in the French capital.
Had England beaten the Springboks in the second of two Test matches last weekend, Robinson would certainly have pressed on with his attempt to remain in charge through to, and beyond, the 2007 World Cup. But a 13th defeat in 22 matches effectively put paid to that idea.
Baron and Andrew, both of whom publicly supported Robinson's continued tenure at the start of the autumn series, felt they had no choice but to act, despite the obvious difficulties of recruiting a replacement in time for the start of the Six Nations Championship, which is a mere nine weeks distant.
There is no suggestion that the other members of the coaching team - Wells, Brian Ashton and Mike Ford - will lose their jobs, although the RFU will consider some internal reorganisation in respect of seniority.
If Andrew, who sits with the coaches on selection, decides against taking a hands-on role in team preparation, the short-term solution may be to ask Ashton to perform the leadership duties. The former Bath coach, who encouraged Robinson during his early back-room days at the Recreation Ground, was the top man with Ireland in the late 1990s.
England's key games in 2007
* 3 Feb Scotland (h)
* 10 Feb Italy (h)
* 24 Feb Ireland (a)
* 11 Mar France (h)
* 17 Mar Wales (a)
* 8 Sep US (Lens)
* 14 Sep South Africa (Saint-Denis)
* 22 Sep Samoa (Nantes)
* 28 Sep Repêchage 2 (Paris)Reuse content