Thomas admits to RFU shortcomings
June 10, 2011
RFU management board chairman Martyn Thomas appointed Steele last June © Getty Images
Rugby Football Union chairman Martyn Thomas has revealed that organisation's management board voted unanimously to sack chief executive John Steele.
Speaking at the end of a dramatic couple of days at Twickenham that resulted in Steele's departure after just nine months in the post, Thomas said a breakdown in communication over the job description for the vacant performance director role and other failures in the process forced them to act.
"The RFU Board of directors met last night and we reviewed the position of the chief executive John Steele," said Thomas. "We had a very long four and a half hour meeting during which John was with us for everything apart from the decision. It was not an easy meeting, it was not a comfortable meeting but the Board concluded unanimously that we should part company with John.
"There were issues in terms of candidates coming in, considerable media speculation as happens with high profile jobs and there were procedures that the Board felt were not right."
The costly misunderstanding stemmed from Steele's decision to change the job specification for the performance director role, removing any involvement with the senior England side last month. Just two days later, the RFU performed a rapid u-turn to reverse the decision to alter the job specification again, returning it to its original form.
"There was obviously an issues regards communication in relation to the time when the job description for the performance director was changed. The Board understood it to mean one thing, quite genuinely, and John understood it to be something else, quite correctly.
"I don't criticise John for that, and if I do I also criticise the Board and myself aswell. We both made mistakes, we both got it wrong, there was a genuine misunderstanding as to the role," explained Thomas.
"John and the Board agreed it [the initial change] would be until the World Cup and John believed it could remain in place after the World Cup - the Board did not. That's why we had the controversial Board meeting that reversed the decision or made it clear it would remain as originally put by John and put to the Board, the RFU Council and journalists in January."
Thomas has also played down speculation that Steele's exit was linked to the union's failure to tempt former England coach Sir Clive Woodward back to HQ. "Clive has ruled himself out of this job," insisted Thomas. "He has committed himself to Lord Moynihan and he has said he is staying with them until after the Olympics. I respect that decision."
However, Thomas hinted that Union's failure to secure an interview with Woodward could have proved costly. "In reality, what you do when you have an applicant for a job is listen to him, listen to the presentation and then make a decision about whether this is the guy we need or not. You don't just say glibly that he won a World Cup in 2003 and he turned his back on the union and said he way enjoying soccer therefore we will never talk to him again," Thomas told BBC 5 Live.
"It never went to interview and that was one of the issues. The interview was cancelled and John made that decision. He was not able to communicate with Bill Beaumont or myself or the other members of the panel as we were not contactable by email. John sent us an email and we didn't receive that until late and by the time we saw the email, as opposed to a phone call, it was too late.
"I was available to speak on the phone as was Bill Beaumont. John's decision, and I'm not criticising him for it, was to send an email. We would have liked a phone call and we would have talked about it.
"Whether Clive would have got the job if he had been interviewed is hypothetical but certainly things started to go off track at that point. In my view it was the time that things started to go wrong."
The RFU have also revealed that Thomas will act as an interim chief executive until the next Board meeting later this month with the vacant performance director role still a pressing concern. In addition, a four-man panel comprising former internationals Bill Beaumont, Jason Leonard, Richard Hill and John Spencer will conduct a fact-finding mission into the elite management of rival unions.
"In conjunction with Rob Andrew, they will sit down and review how this situation operates around the world with other unions and investigate the reporting lines of their senior management teams. They will then come back to the Board at the end of June with their thoughts on the performance director role," added Thomas. "I hope that they will bring an expertise that the media, rugby people and the England team will respect."
In conclusion, Thomas admitted the RFU had not covered itself in glory this year. "I don't accept it has been a shambles but I do accept it has been a very bad chapter in our history," said Thomas. "The simple answer is that we didn't get it right and we've got to hold our hands up and say we got this wrong."
The RFU's disciplinary chief, Judge Jeff Blackett, has been tasked by the council to submit a report into the whole situation.
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