19 December 2006
Martyn Thomas insists that Twickenham's decision makers are ready to tackle the challenge of restoring the country to the top of rugby's world tree.
Thomas will tomorrow chair a pivotal Management Board meeting deciding on a recommendation by Elite Rugby Director Rob Andrew for the appointment of England's new head coach following the departure of Andy Robinson three weeks ago.
And he has complete faith in Andrew, saying: "Rob is supremely qualified and I and the Board have got every confidence in his ability to tell us what he wants and for us to support him tomorrow. He is a very sound man, not one to panic. He has been in the game since it went professional. He has got the expertise and the knowledge and he will make a recommendation which he feels is right for England.
"But this is not just about the sort-term solutions. Rob's work is central to how the landscape of the game in England will change. That will happen in conjunction with the RFU, the clubs and the players, who will play a key part in the debate that will be entered into in earnest next month.
"The PRA chief executive Damian Hopley sits on the Club England body and has a say in that, as do the clubs who are represented on the Management Board by Peter Wheeler. We're greatly encouraged by the willingness of Premier Rugby Limited and the club owners to work with us to find a solution. It's all taking place right now."
And Thomas admitted: "Things have to change. Everything is on the table and nothing is sacred. It's a huge challenge but one everyone in the game - at long last - is ready to tackle. We have got to get back to winning on the field and that's what I want to focus on, not personalities past and present, to get England back to the top.
"For us the process starts with the right appointment of a new head coach, followed by agreements that ease the burden on players, develop their skills and game understanding, and create the environment for both the professional clubs and the England teams to flourish on and off the pitch."
Thomas discounts claims that the World Cup was bad for England, adding: "Winning the World Cup was a fantastic success and one that has energised the game in England at all levels. Support for the Guinness Premiership clubs continues to increase, at the grassroots we've seen more than 50,000 new people take up rugby in England since November 2003 and the commercial spin-offs mean that clubs at all levels can access more funding to continue improving and increasing participation.
"Francis Baron (Chief Executive) heads up a union with one of the strongest balance sheets in rugby - the stadium is nearly done, he has developed England Rugby Travel in partnership with Mike Burton Travel�all the things that are going to generate the revenue we need to finance the game to get us back on top and, also, importantly for the Community Game.
"However, on the pitch the England team has struggled for three seasons now and the reasons are complicated. It's worth reminding ourselves of some of them.
"On day one - let's call it November 23, 2003 - England effectively lost a number of senior players. But that is only one point put beside the other issues of coaching, player welfare, release dates and the structure of the game and season.
"It's no coincidence that the sides that have overtaken England - at both club and international level - have addressed these issues. For example, the playing burden on Ireland's players has been reduced, their provinces concentrate on and thrive in the Heineken Cup and as a result the national side are reaping the benefits.
"In England we sought to negotiate extra training days outside Test weeks for Andy Robinson in 2005 and 2006. The only problem was that the Mondays and Tuesdays agreed with the Premiership clubs turned out to be of such limited value with players coming off the back of the tough domestic programme. That's not a criticism of the clubs; it's just the way it is.
"We were ahead of the world but the rest of the world moved on and that's a major problem in life. If someone wins then people say 'you don't need to change anything' but when you lose you say 'how can we change things and win next time round'. Up until now, and I'd like to think we're different, no-one has successfully defended the World Cup.
"But I believe that Rob is the right piece in the jigsaw to put the coaching team together and drive Elite Eugby in the right direction. Everyone in the RFU is determined to support him in that."