SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: The RFU STINKS from top to bottom… England fans are being taken for fools

I fear we are witnessing a return of the RFU old boys’ club — or the ‘old farts’ as Will Carling famously described them — as they try to close down legitimate debate on Eddie Jones’ future.

It is all smoke and mirrors and it’s not serving the needs of English rugby, which is the only thing that counts.

The irony of course is that the RFU’s ham-fisted attempts to draw a line under this season have only ignited people’s fury…and suspicion. England are badly underperforming and this is not going away — no matter how much they wish it would.

England manager Eddie Jones has received an astonishing vote of confidence from the RFU

On Sunday, Twickenham cranked out a remarkable press release just hours after England had lost in Paris, their third defeat of the Six Nations. They also lost three of five games last season, lest we forget.

In the press release, he or she — we have no idea who it is, only an RFU spokesperson who is just so gutless — stated that the RFU were ‘encouraged by England’s solid progress’, a frankly absurd comment that has been rightly ridiculed.

Is this really the view of everyone at the RFU? I think not. Ugo Monye — one of the fairest and least hysterical pundits on the circuit — called it ‘dishonest’ and I concur entirely. The RFU are deliberately trying to mislead the rugby public.

To have the word ‘dishonest’ leveled at the RFU is unprecedented but unfortunately in this case totally accurate. Well done Ugo for having the bottle to say so.

The RFU are trying to close down legitimate debate on the future of England head coach

The RFU are trying to close down legitimate debate on the future of England head coach

It is a gross distortion of the truth. Did Eddie sign off on the press release or was it his big mate Bill Sweeney, the RFU chief executive? Who has made this assessment of England’s faltering season and if it was Sweeney, why does he not put his head above the parapet and say so? It stinks from top to bottom and it has been going on for ages. I witnessed it first-hand just days after the World Cup final in 2019.

I got a call from Sweeney, who I had only met a few times, inviting me for a few beers and an informal debrief of the World Cup. I had seen the knockout stages first-hand and had also witnessed the final week’s preparation — a serious lesson in how not to prepare.

He knew based on my writings in this paper that I was far from impressed with the way Jones in particular had handled that last week, resulting in a total no-show in the final. He wanted to hear my views in person and we met on the Thursday after the final in a pub near Twickenham for a strictly off-the-record discussion.

I took my trusty notebook with me, in which I had jotted down a long list of bullet points on the flight home from Japan. Some minor but some crucial and in the spirit of constructive cooperation I offered them up to Bill. Some were clearly uncomfortable for him as he was also partly to blame.

About 45 minutes after I left the pub, I got a foul-mouthed text from Jones beating me for my views. I was gobsmacked and more than annoyed. It had been a private session with Sweeney over a few beers but straight after the two of them had obviously spoken. I don’t know who phoned who, I did not care, but suddenly I was the bad guy. The paranoia was worrying.

So this is why I am so suspicious now. They want to close the debate down because they know there needs to be one and they know it will uncover some painful truths for both of them.

Later in Sunday’s press release, it mentioned the infamous anonymous panel of so-called rugby experts who will review England’s season — as they did last year’s disastrous campaign, when their main findings seemed to be the need for a referee at England sessions and a sports psychologist, both of which were in place 20 years ago!

The panel apparently meets mid-season. Really? How does that work? Are its discussions minuted and its advice passed on to Eddie and promptly acted on? And will they meet again to review this season and interview people?

Fans are being taken for fools by a gutless old boys club led by Jones and Bill Sweeney (left)

Fans are being taken for fools by a gutless old boys club led by Jones and Bill Sweeney (left)

Who are these people on the panel who are considered capable of quizzing Eddie on how to run a World Cup winning team? What is the level of their expertise? Are some of them RFU employees who perhaps owe their job to Eddie’s influence and backing?

Most importantly, why are they anonymous? Being invited on to this panel should be a feather in their caps, something to be proud of. You sometimes wonder if these people even exist.

I would bet a lot of money that this is once again a hornet’s nest of serious conflicts of interest, put together by Jones and his mate Sweeney (below). A PR stunt to keep everyone quiet. It has badly backfired and I am disappointed the RFU Council has not demanded to know chapter and verse about all of this. Let’s have some honesty and some real transparency here, this is the national governing body!

Around the time of the World Cup in 2019, Conor O’Shea was given the job of performance director. Based on what? O’Shea was still employed by the Italians, who wanted him out, and had a dismal Six Nations record. Eddie apparently believed he would be the right person for the job, in that there would be zero questions or interference with him. Jobs for the boys.

The RFU have said they are 'encouraged by the solid progress the team has made'

The RFU have said they are ‘encouraged by the solid progress the team has made’

This might also explain O’Shea’s total backing for Jones since he arrived. You can bet your mortgage he is one of the nameless wonders who clearly think England’s results over the last two Six Nations represent ‘solid progress’.

I despair that this is such an amateur and murky affair that reflects so badly on England.

When I was a coach, believe me I did not lack constructive criticism. I recall Jeff Probyn, a Council member, having a right go at me one time about something, which he was totally entitled to do. But at least he was man enough to put his name to his thoughts and allowed me to put mine back to him. That is how it should be, not all this nonsense.

So well done again Ugo, but this is more than just dishonest — this is making a total mockery of the game. And make no mistake, the way the team plays currently is just a reflection of what is going on behind the scenes.

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