Mystery surrounds RFU kingmakers
January 19, 2012
RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is the only confirmed member of the selection committee © Getty Images
The make-up of the five-man committee that will play a key role in the appointment of the next England coach is set to be kept under wraps by the Rugby Football Union (RFU).
The '153 Group', named after the section in the agreement between the RFU and Premiership Rugby which covers the recruitment of an England coach, will assess all applicants for the job of leading England into the 2015 Rugby World Cup and scrutinise the shortlist of candidates provided by head-hunters Odgers before making its own recommendation to the RFU management board.
The panel will be chaired by the RFU's new chief executive Ian Ritchie but the remaining four members will be kept anonymous. The Professional Game Board (PGB), which runs the elite game in England, will confirm only that the panel is comprised of two representatives from the RFU and two from Premiership Rugby.
There was a debate about whether the identity of the 153 Group should be made public but the decision was taken that anonymity would be the best way of retaining the integrity of the process. The PGB wanted to avoid a situation where members of the group would be approached for comments on the process or have inferences drawn from past interviews.
The RFU's professional rugby director Rob Andrew had said on Johnson's departure that he would play a significant role in the recruitment process but that is no longer certain. PGB chairman Ian Metcalfe admitted last month there was "definitely a perception issue" around Andrew's involvement, due to his close links with the previous regime. The RFU's acting chief executive Stephen Brown would only go as far as saying Andrew, who no longer oversees the senior England team, will "potentially be involved".
The RFU want a decision before the end of the Six Nations, which would appear to count against Stuart Lancaster, who is currently England's interim coach. But Lancaster, who was not considered a likely candidate when he first took temporary charge, has been told the door is open should he wish to apply.
Stephen Brown, the RFU's acting chief executive, said Lancaster would be given due consideration should he wish to apply and the recruitment process could be delayed if necessary. Lancaster has already impressed RFU executives in his attempts to rebuild the culture and reputation of English rugby.
Nick Mallett, Wayne Smith, Vernon Cooper, Rassie Erasmus and Jim Mallinder have all been linked with the post in recent weeks.
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