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RFU launch player conduct investigation
ESPNscrum Staff
October 13, 2011

The Rugby Football Union has launched their own investigation into the off-field incidents which dogged England's World Cup campaign.

Any player found to have breached the RFU's elite player agreement or their code of conduct could face punishments ranging from a fine to an international suspension, acting chief executive Martyn Thomas announced. The investigation will be undertaken over the next two weeks by Karena Vleck, the head of the RFU's legal department, as Twickenham begin to deal with the fall out of England's World Cup failure.

Martin Johnson has been given until Monday week to indicate whether he wants to be considered for re-appointment as England manager. Thomas confirmed Fran Cotton will lead a review of the RFU's elite set-up, including England's record since Johnson was appointed and the current management structure of the national team.

Rob Andrew's position will also come under fresh scrutiny. Andrew announced on Sunday that he had accepted the job as the RFU's new professional game director but that claim was shot down by Thomas. "It has obviously not been a good World Cup by any standards for us, both on the field and off the field," said Thomas. "I think it is fair to say we are unhappy with what happened on the field. England should deliver better than it has. The off-field performances have been wholly unacceptable.

"I don't want to pre-empt any actions that are taken but on Monday I spoke to Karena Vleck, the legal officer, and she will be investigating all the allegations of misconduct off the field. She will deal with issues in relation to breach of the elite player squad agreement and indeed, in fact, in terms of the code of conduct we put in.

"The appropriate action will be taken against those players. Under the terms of the elite player squad agreement they can be fined in relation to their match fees, they can be fined or cautioned in relation to breaches of the player code of conduct.

"It is open to discussions with Rob Andrew and the England team manager that they would not be available to England going forward as a fairly significant sanction. Martin has been let down by a number of the players."

England's disciplinary issues ranged from a drunken night out in Queenstown to Manu Tuilagi jumping from a ferry into Auckland harbour, for which he was fined £3000 by the RFU. Johnson, whose contract expires at the end of December, has been given until October 24 - the day after the World Cup final - to declare whether he would like to continue in the post.

Thomas insisted England would not rush any appointment and he did not rule out appointing a caretaker coach for the Six Nations if needs be. "It is not his decision whether he remains in his post," Thomas said. "What I need to know is if he wishes to be considered for appointment. I have given him seven to 14 days to advise me of his position.

"If it comes to the crunch and Johnson decides to go or is not appointed, we have to ensure we don't just rush in and say 'we have to appoint someone come what may before the Six Nations'. I really want to make sure we get this right this time. If we have to appoint a temporary coach to see us through the Six Nations, that's fine. As far as I'm concerned this time we do it right. We've wasted a lot of time since 2003."

England's World Cup campaign will now be the subject of three separate reviews - one conducted by Cotton, one on behalf of the Professional Game Board and one from Andrew. Cotton will assess the best man to head up the RFU's professional rugby department - the job Andrew has not yet been given - and England's performance since Johnson took charge.

The former England prop will also review the England management structure, with one potential recommendation being the appointment of a team manager in the mould of New Zealand's Darren Shand who can take charge of disciplinary issues. Cotton will report back to Thomas in time for his recommendations to be put to the RFU management board at a meeting on November 30.

"The Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson telephoned me and said he had read reports that there would be internal reviews being conducted," Thomas said. "He felt it needed more than that and I informed him I had already put that process in place and that I had asked Fran Cotton to chair that group externally to look at the World Cup campaign, both on and off the field, to look back at the performance of the England team over the last three years and to look at the functioning of the professional rugby department within Twickenham."

Cotton has this week branded England's World Cup campaign a "failure" and he claimed the squad had not improved on Johnson's watch and lacked leadership. Thomas was unaware of Cotton's comments.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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