More fires were lit at the Rugby Football Union yesterday as players railed against the embattled organisation and a leading member walked out.
Mike Tindall accused the RFU of making him a “scapegoat” in a statement released through the Rugby Players’ Association following his reinstatement to the England’s elite player squad.
The Yorkshireman also saw his fine of £25,000 reduced to £15,000 following an appeal against the sanction given for his off-field behaviour at the World Cup.
And Martyn Thomas left the governing body with immediate effect after the threat of a misconduct charge was lifted.
Thomas, who was due to leave Twickenham on December 16, has been replaced in the role of acting chief executive by Stephen Brown, the RFU’s chief financial officer.
The scaling back of Tindall’s ban has left the 33-year-old England vice-captain feeling “somewhat vindicated” by the verdict of the hearing.
However, he still believes he has been punished too severely for his conduct at the Altitude bar in Queenstown, New Zealand.
“I am deeply disappointed by the way the RFU has chosen to handle the situation,” Tindall said in the statement.
“I have felt throughout the disciplinary process that my case was made unnecessarily political and public by the RFU and that I ended up being made a scapegoat.
“(Monday’s) decision goes some way to reflect a fairer assessment of what actually happened during the World Cup.
“It had been suggested that I intentionally misled people in relation to the events in Queenstown and I am pleased following this appeal process that it has been made clear that I did not do so.
“I feel somewhat vindicated by the decision to reinstate me back into the Elite Player Squad.
“While I accept the decision made by the disciplinary appeal panel I still maintain that the level of fine is not in line with other RFU disciplinary cases.
“I absolutely accept my share of responsibility for what happened in Queenstown and that I drank too much that night.
“It unfortunately created a level of media interest which was an unwanted distraction for myself, my team-mates, Martin Johnson and his staff.
“I can again only apologise unreservedly for this.”
The initial sanction came after RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew and legal and governance director Karena Vleck heard evidence earlier this month about Tindall’s conduct in Queenstown.
The behaviour of Tindall, who is married to the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, was described as unacceptable.
The 75 times-capped Otley-born centre misled England management in that he did not tell them he went to another bar.
But Thomas, who heard the appeal before stepping down from his position, said he felt mitigating factors did not appear to have been taken into account “to the extent that they might otherwise have been”.
Tindall said: “It is the ultimate honour to play for your country and I am proud and privileged to have done this for over 11 years. I have always put my heart and soul into playing for England.”
The news of Thomas’s departure came less than an hour after Charles Flint QC had announced there was no evidence to bring disciplinary action against him, following the criticism levelled at Thomas in the Blackett Report, for his role in the hiring and firing of John Steele as chief executive.
On December 16 Thomas will relinquish the chairmanship of England Rugby 2015 , the directorship of European Rugby Cup Ltd and step down from the International Rugby Board Council and the Six Nations Committee. But Thomas decided to hand over the RFU reins to Brown immediately.
He said: “Stephen has increasingly taken over the day-to-day running of the RFU since I announced on November 2 that I would not be renewing my contract after December 16.
“He has demonstrated in the time that he has been at the RFU that he is immensely capable and this has been underlined once again in the last few weeks.
“It is therefore entirely logical that he takes on the role of acting CEO as soon as possible.
“He is highly respected by the staff and I have every confidence that he will provide the stability and leadership needed until a new permanent CEO takes office.”
Meanwhile, fresh twists in the saga over who will succeed Martin Johnson as England team manager saw Brian Ashton emerge as a candidate to take the post on a temporary basis.
Ashton was sacked in 2008 despite leading England to the World Cup final the previous autumn.
Former Leeds player and head coach Stuart Lancaster is also in the frame to take England into the Six Nations.
John Kirwan said yesterday he would be willing to manage England on an interim basis with the ultimate ambition of securing a role when the permanent coaching team is finalised.
Long-term candidates Nick Mallett and Wayne Smith have ruled themselves out in the short term, but 46-year-old former Italy and Japan coach Kirwan is happy to throw his hat into the ring.
“If the phone rings I will say yes. It would really excite me,” he said.
“This England side excites me and I would be available on a short-term situation.”