England’s Perfect Team Posted about 12 years ago

Here’s a message for Ian Ritchie, the new chief executive of the RFU. The England team pays the bills of English rugby. Get control of the England team and the rest will follow.

On Thursday Sir Clive Woodward sent a message to the memorial service of Cliff Brittle, the former chairman of the RFU. Woodward, who was unable to attend in person but had been present at Brittle’s funeral, said: “Cliff was just so way ahead of anyone else in rugby that it was not surprising that he crossed swords with many in the game who just did not understand his views and concerns, but also the opportunity that the game had if we got it right .

“Based on his unbelievable drive and determination, the game in England did get it right for a very short while and this was very much down to Cliff Brittle ….. heaven only knows what he is thinking about recent events at his beloved Twickenham.”

Well, Clive probably knows what Cliff is thinking. Cliff will be thinking: “How can England ever be as good as they should be if they do not have control of the players.” Cliff fought and fought to get control, but was forever being undermined by the club owners and the quislings in his own organisation.
And so it is that the first voice calling to Ritchie across a compliant media was Edward Griffiths, the CEO of Saracens. Editing down the bleat, Griffiths basically said: “The RFU makes 25 million, the clubs lose 25 million, so divvy up some of the dosh or there will be more civil war.”

It’s preposterous. No one asked the club owners to take over the clubs and then pay the players, a lot of them foreign, ridiculous salaries that the income from TV and crowds cannot possibly justify. And so once more they are trying to gouge money from the rest of the game.

From beyond the grave there will be a hollow laugh from Brittle. He tried to centrally contract the players but was stabbed in the back by people in his own union. A spectral Brittle can point at the England cricket team and say: “I told you so.” England is the highest ranked test nation in the world and their rise has been as a result of the central contracts brought in at the turn of the century. Cliff had tried to do the same for the England rugby team, but was sold down the river.

Well what a chance the RFU has now. Two of the world’s top coaches, Nick Mallett and Wayne Smith, are willing to work together. These are men of integrity. Both have great rugby brains, but Mallett has a touch of old world, iron discipline and Smith is more an empowerer. It is a fine balance.

The perfect manager for the team is Simon Halliday, financially shrewd, a former international and a man whom Mallett knows Halliday from their Oxford days. It would be the perfect balance of manager and coach. Halliday would manage the long term financial, strategic decisions, Mallett would have absolute control over selection and coaching of the team.

If Halliday says: “I want to phase in proper central contracts where the clubs are secondary to the national team” then the CEO has to back him. Give Halliday the money so that he can say: “Anyone who wants to play for England will be very well remunerated, but as soon as they come off their current club contract they have to sign primary terms with England.”

The RFU has a wonderful chance to make England as strong as the cricket team, to atone for so many years of horrendous mismanagement. Can Ritchie be a CEO in the image of Brittle? I am not sure, but if he is as shrewd as Brittle he will soon discover that the clubs’ agenda is financial rather than patriotic and egalitarian.

What an opportunity Ritchie has. The public would back him all the way. Now it just needs the RFU to do the staggeringly obvious. It’s a no brainer and that’s why I’m worried.

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Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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