Mallett in frame as hurdles removed by RFU

Nick Mallett. PA
Nick Mallett. PA
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The Rugby Football Union are ready to break the bank in their quest to assemble the “very best” England coaching team.

Former South Africa, Italy and Stade Francais boss Nick Mallett is clearly the preferred choice to succeed Martin Johnson with this week’s overhaul of the RFU’s structure removing any obstacles to his appointment.

Mallett’s arrival would be enthusiastically-received, as would that of New Zealand’s World Cup-winning coach Wayne Smith who has been touted as one possibility in the role of assistant.

The RFU have vowed to take their time determining the outstanding candidates, setting next summer’s tour to South Africa as the only deadline.

An interim appointment is expected to be made in the coming weeks, with former Leeds Carnegie player and coach Stuart Lancaster – the England Saxons chief – the favourite to assume that role.

Aiding the search for a long-term successor is a strong balance sheet – the RFU recently posted a record £8.7m profit – that acting chief executive Stephen Brown insists will help lure the desired people to Twickenham.

“We have an extremely strong commercial and financial base,” said Brown. “That puts us in a very good position to pay for the very best people we can get.

“Our financial results have just been published. We’re not exactly in a bad position financially.

“That’s one of the successes that may have been slightly missed in recent months.”

The interim appointment, potentially of Lancaster with Graham Rowntree as his assistant, will give the RFU breathing space to conduct their search for the team that will take England to the 2015 World Cup.

Mallett will have found the restructuring much to his liking.

He objected to the chain of command that previously saw the head coach report to the director of elite rugby – Rob Andrew – and not to the chief executive.

But with Andrew being stripped of any involvement with the senior team, the contact between head coach and chief executive will now be direct.

The move brings England into line with most other major nations and will undoubtedly increase the appeal of one of the biggest jobs in world rugby.

With the RFU signalling their intent to look overseas, the coaching team is likely to have a very southern hemisphere look to it.

Any determination to pursue only English candidates for the top job has long since evaporated, replaced by the realisation that nationality must play second fiddle to competence.

But were the RFU to opt for a team with a strong overseas identity, they would insist on have an Englishman on board with a view to succeeding after 2015 World Cup. Under such a proposal, highly-regarded Halifax-born Northampton head coach Jim Mallinder could also be recruited.

Brown insists that whoever is selected will know exactly what is expected of them following the confusion that surrounded Johnson’s position as manager.

“The role definitions in the past haven’t been clear, within the union or to the individuals involved,” said Brown.

“We need to get the role definitions correct so that we get the right person to deliver that role.

“We need to get the reporting and accountability lines clear, something that also hasn’t happened in the past. It’s something that we’re very clear on fixing, hence the changes that have been made to the structure.”

Meanwhile, Sports Minister Hugh Robertson has urged the RFU council not to be afraid of change as they prepare to debate sweeping reforms to the organisation’s governance structure.

The RFU board yesterday implemented a significant change to the England management and the 63 council members are now being asked to consider proposals to streamline and modernise their own body.

Robertson said the current structure is “like a throwback to the previous era” and not equipped to run a modern professional sport.

Nigel Boardman, a partner in the law firm Slaughter and May, will today present a 169-page report which recommends a smaller council with reduced powers.

Slaughter and May’s report recommends the number of council members elected from the community game be cut from 60 to 25, including five from under-represented groups.

Oxford and Cambridge Universities would lose their seats on the council.

There would be one seat for the armed forces, instead of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force being represented individually.

The report recommends two council seats for referees, an additional seat for the Rugby Players’ Association and the introduction of a new post of council chairman, a role currently performed by the RFU president.