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Peter Bills: Review shows up England's arrogance

The news that England's rugby union will make major changes to its structure, in the light of a far-reaching review by new chief executive John Steele, is long overdue.

It simply defies belief that a rugby-playing country such as England with the numbers of players and the finances at its disposal, could suffer such an appalling a run of failure on the international field. Major heads should have rolled for presiding over this shambolic a state of affairs a long time ago.

Of course, it's not technically true to say that heads have not rolled at Twickenham. Two notable ones did -- coaches Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton. The trouble was, both became scapegoats for the failings of others. How anyone who gets his side to a World Cup final can be fired defies belief.

Declan Kidney beware. On that basis, if Ireland reach the final in Auckland this autumn, but lose it, the Irish coach will be sacked. Happily for Ireland, such mad-ness does not exist within the IRFU.

What compounded the lunacy of Ashton's sacking was that it came just at a time when changes in the game towards a more attacking philosophy would have suited his mentality down to a tee. Ashton's vision would have given England a wonderful impetus into the intricacies of the 'new' game.

But the trouble was, those doing the sacking within the RFU didn't have much of a clue about rugby. They were 'suits' who understood finance. They thought that if they filled Twick-enham for just about every major game, they were doing their jobs.

Only that can explain England's shocking performances of recent times. Since 2003 when they won the World Cup with an ageing team, England have done nothing. That is eight long years ago this season and they haven't won a Grand Slam, a Six Nations or even a measly Triple Crown in that time.

During this same period, France have been champions four times and won two Grand Slams, Wales were champions twice, with a Grand Slam on each occasion and Ireland once, with their Grand Slam of 2009 -- apart from winning four Triple Crowns.

It is incredible that England -- the wealthiest union by far and the most powerful in all of world rugby in terms of playing numbers -- haven't won a single thing over this period of time.

Such consistent failure more than merited a major inquiry into the structure of the entire organisation. And Steele is right to have concluded that the whole business needs a major shake-up. "This has been a comprehensive review and there will be significant changes," said an RFU spokesman.

At the heart of England's failings has been an inbred arrogance within Twickenham. The sense that England were the best, could teach the world how to play rugby (as they once did) and were superior in every sense, became insidious within the higher echelons of the game in England.

People throughout the organisation, who were insufferably boring and crassly inefficient at their jobs, thought themselves God's gift to the world. They found solace in each other's company so that mediocrity proliferated, at all levels of the organisation, money-making excepted.


They got their comeuppance, of course, on the field. Ireland have won six of their last seven games against England, scoring 153 points in the process. By common consent, Scotland have suffered some hard years of failure in recent times. Yet England have not won at Murrayfield since '04.

Wales have beaten them in four of their last six Championship meetings and France have won six of their last 10 matches against them. They have lost their last nine games against New Zealand and their last seven against South Africa.

All this damning evidence has been laid bare before the eyes of the Twickenham cognoscenti for years, but fools who wear blinkers can see nothing.

Back-biting and in-fighting has also been more important at Twickenham than results on the field. It is alleged that when Martin Johnson was first approached to become coach and a salary was discussed, he said flatly he wanted the same money as Rob Andrew, the elite rugby director who was rumoured to be on close to £300,000 a year.

The RFU official is said to have dismissed that. "Alright," Johnson is alleged to have said, "I'm not interested." It is rumoured he eventually got the deal he wanted.

England need many things to extricate themselves from this mire of mediocrity. But above all, removing their heads from their backsides would be an admirable start to the process.

Irish Independent