Andrew denies Ashton plot
April 18, 2008
Ashton and Andrew in happier times during the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France © Getty Images
England's elite rugby director Rob Andrew insisted that deposed head coach Brian Ashton was not knifed in the back by the Rugby Football Union.
Ashton has been replaced at the top of England's senior coaching structure by the 2003 World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson, the new team manager. Ashton, 61, informed Andrew on Monday he would not be prepared to continue as Johnson's number two.
The RFU offered Ashton an alternative position as head of the national academy - a structure he helped set up in 2002 - which he is now considering. The RFU were widely accused of duplicity in courting Johnson, having only re-appointed Ashton as head coach in December after he dug England out of a hole and helped them reach the 2007 World Cup final.
At the time, Andrew described it as the start of a "long-term project" and promised Ashton the team manager of his choice - someone who would help with the administrative burden but not interfere with rugby affairs. The ground shifted dramatically after some inconsistent performances in the Six Nations and those close to Ashton maintain senior RFU officials demanded Andrew bring Johnson on board.
But Andrew insisted today no-one was plotting behind Ashton's back, that the process was far more gradual than it appears, and that Ashton was kept fully informed throughout. Andrew said: ''Brian made it very clear that the role of the team manager in his eyes was a number two, reporting to him as head coach.
''I spoke to six people about the role of team manager after Six Nations. 'I first met Martin on March 20 and it was at the second meeting where the serious discussions started around the role of team manager.
''That is when it began to differ from the view of team manager that Brian had and where the difficulties arose. 'I am confident I kept Brian informed through the process. I was talking to Brian that the role of team manager may not be the one that he envisaged.
''I felt Martin was the right guy to come in and build on the work that is being done beneath the senior team and drive standards. 'It has been a difficult situation but we are working very closely with Brian. I spoke to him this morning and he is very keen to continue working with the RFU.''
Ashton and his predecessor Andy Robinson both spent their short reigns requesting the appointment of a team manager so they could be freed up to concentrate on coaching. But Johnson made it clear to Andrew at their first meeting that he disagreed with Ashton's notion of a team manager and stressed the importance of one man being in sole charge.
It was that way under Sir Clive Woodward - and it will be that way under Johnson.
''I believe the players need to know who is ultimately responsible,'' Johnson said. ''When I initially talked to Rob, I told him there was no other way for that to be done. The person in charge has to have full responsibility. 'The players have to know who is in charge.''
Legal experts believe Ashton could have strong case for a claim of constructive dismissal, but despite being disappointed and angry he will not be sueing the Union.
RFU chief executive Francis Baron accepted that some mistakes could have been avoided during the process - but he reiterated Andrew's argument that Ashton had not been hung out to dry. ''I do not accept Brian has been not been properly dealt with overall,'' Baron said. ''He has had a very difficult time but Brian is a highly valued employee of the RFU.
''He remains under contract to us. That contract caters for Brian to be switched to alternative roles within the RFU. 'We want Brian to stay as part of our elite rugby structure and we have offered him the alternative position as head coach of the national academy.
''This is a considerably wider role than the one he previously held with the national academy. It covers the Saxons, the Under-20 and the Under-18s. 'We believe Brian has an outstanding track record in developing young talent for the future as can be seen in the emergence of young players like Danny Cipriani and Shane Geraghty.
''We believe this role is suited to his special skill set. Brian has confirmed to me his interest in taking up the new position we have offered him. 'I very much believe Brian will remain part of the team. He has a massive amount to offer.''
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