The Rugby Football Union yesterday issued a public apology for England’s World Cup shambles and demoted Rob Andrew from such an influential role with the national team.
But they stalled on appointing a new head coach, either in an interim capacity or long term.
Former Leeds Carnegie player and coach Stuart Lancaster is the favourite to land the job on a temporary basis with the RFU announcing yesterday that they plan to name a full-time successor to Martin Johnson in time for England’s June tour to South Africa.
Their criteria for the man to lead England into the 2015 World Cup is that he should have the appropriate experience and a proven track record.
That would at this stage diminish the chances of Northampton’s Halifax-born director of rugby Jim Mallinder getting the nod and would strengthen the case of former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett being appointed.
Whoever it is, they will no longer be answerable to an elite rugby director, but to the chief executive, a position the RFU plan to fill in the coming weeks.
Richmond-born Andrew’s position as elite rugby director had been the subject of speculation since the team’s dismal World Cup campaign, and he twice stated that he would not be resigning.
But he has effectively been demoted with his role changing to that of professional rugby director, which gives him responsibility for all Professional Rugby Department operations, including the relationship with Premiership Rugby, Tournaments and Competitions and representative teams, but not the senior England side.
The country’s rugby authorities also held their hands up for the conduct of themselves, their flagship team and the players since they arrived in New Zealand in September.
The RFU’s acting chief executive Stephen Brown said: “The most important thing is to make an apology to everyone involved in rugby for the performance of the World Cup and the surrounding events.
“We’ve let ourselves down as a sport and as a team. It’s important we recognise that and take some action going forward.
“Standards were below what we expect, we had a number of off-pitch disciplinary matters and that attracted a lot of negative coverage which we regret.
“We need to fix this going forward and make sure we are in a better place going into 2015 and the report is aimed to do that.
“I would like to thank Ian Metcalfe for bringing together the Professional Game Board (PGB) report and recommendations and we believe that the actions approved today will in the long term help the England team and elite rugby in this country move forward to where we all want it to be.”
PGB chairman Metcalfe reiterated the apology at a Twickenham press conference following the conclusion of internal discussions into the widespread reviews into England’s performance.
“We must not get so wrapped up in finding the leaker to ignore the real issues we have in England rugby,” he said of the leaked reports that so damaged the sport last week.
“It’s not all broken, there are lots of good things out there and working together we can improve on that. But we have made mistakes and there is a commitment to do better.”
The key recommendations regarding the appointment of a new head coach is that time is taken to get the right, experienced man.
Whether that be Mallett, Mallinder, Jake White, John Kirwan or whoever, the position will be that of head coach with the team manager vacancy – which Johnson occupied – becoming more of a logistical one with no responsibility for the players.
Metcalfe said: “I am sure that everybody shares a real determination that we should recruit the very best man for the head coach’s job, that we should take the time needed to do that, and that the support structures around that person and the squad are world class.
“This has been a wide-ranging exercise and I would like to thank all those who contributed to the reviews, especially the England players, coaches and management, Premiership Rugby and the RPA. It has been made difficult by the leaking of confidential information and on behalf of the PGB I would like to apologise to all those who contributed in good faith.”
On Andrew, Metcalfe said: “I don’t think it’s a demotion at all.
“One of the ways we failed Rob is not explaining the breadth of what he is trying to do.
“He has a significant contribution to continue to make.”
However, Andrew’s new position does seem to increase the chances of Mallett taking over. Earlier this month Mallett said: “The head coach should answer to the management board, not to a director of rugby or a guy with a similar title.”
The interim head coach – still potentially Lancaster who is the RFU’s head of elite player development – will be appointed before the naming of the playing squad for the Six Nations on January 11.