It seems that the RFU have shied away from removing Andy Robinson from the top job in England Rugby in another diplomatic move. Having already pledged their support until after the next World Cup in France 2007, England Rugby’s governing body has instead created a new role one level above the Head Coach.
Following the recent inquiry into England’s dismal Six Nations display, the Elite Rugby Director post has been designed to oversee the management aspects of the England setup. Whoever fills the new position will have authority over England Rugby at all levels, with a considerable influence on selection and the team’s tactical approach. Apparently the idea is to leave Robinson to concentrate on coaching the players.
Robinson was an outstanding Number Two in Sir Clive Woodward’s establishment leading up to the 2003 World Cup triumph. When Woodward resigned, Robinson should have gone too, but not wanting to rock the boat, the RFU promoted Robinson and tried to pretend they could cope without the feisty knight. Joe Lydon, Phil Larder and Dave Alred, three of the specialist coaches, have now been sacked; Robinson should have been sacked too. Instead the RFU has created a sinking ship typical of English diplomacy and conservatism.
The conservative English attitude has persisted throughout Robinson’s tenure, and has been demonstrated in his team selection and the reluctance to shake things up. His unwavering loyalty to so many of the out-of-form World Cup squad was a clear example of wanting to maintain the status quo.
It is a shame that the RFU management did not learn their lesson from ten years ago when they first appointed Woodward. For years previously, England had muddled through matches playing a conservative 10-man game and settling for the odd Five Nations title.
But when Woodward took control, he made changes, ruffled feathers and implemented a revolutionary framework that would win them the World Cup. Few people knew much about him, but the RFU took a risk and it paid off. By demoting Robinson but not sacking him, they have passed up the opportunity for a more radical move and have returned to their conservative ways that is so characteristic of English rugby.
With the decision now made, I would like to see Woodward offered the Elite Rugby Director post, and for him to create a high-quality coaching team to include Brian Ashton, Shaun Edwards and John Wells. England needs the combined vision of Woodward and Ashton reinstated as soon as possible if they are to turn up in France as a force, not an embarrassment.
The stage is set for Woodward to return, with the role seemingly tailor-made for him, but with the RFU’s recent record of doing things by halves, the return of Woodward may be too audacious, a lesser man may be appointed and England Rugby will continue to wallow in unadventurous mediocrity.