Last Sunday the man at the helm at Twickenham, RFU Chairman Martyn Thomas, stood down.
This incident is just one of a series of events that have undermined the English rugby union and thrown our World Cup opponents into disarray only months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in New Zealand.
Apart from making jingoistic Scots smile, though, it could be argued that this has no bearing on the Scottish game whatsoever. For me, however, this has more impact on us than you would first consider.
This all started when RFU Chief Executive John Steele walked the plank. In just 9 months Steele oversaw a Union in decline, but one refusing to change its ways. Former RFU Chief Francis Baron told the BBC: “I left a financially strong and healthy union. We were operating to high standards of governance. And we had a strong and stable professional management team… Looking at it now, it seems that has all been wrecked in just 12 months.”
Obviously the allegations of financial collapse and ‘failing’ Chief Execs are ones which need investigating. Cue the RFU tasking its Chief Disciplinary Officer, and High Court Judge, Jeff Blackett to lead a panel of 5 to look into the RFU’s actions in the last 9 months and evaluate performance.
In the critical report Blackett recommended Thomas resign as chairman, along with every member of the management board, except Bill Beaumont. Instead of this Thomas retained his role as acting chief executive, the board survived a vote of no confidence by the council members and the report was suppressed. Blackett isn’t backing down, either.
In Scotland we have openly dealt with our Union being heavily in debt for years. We have, however, always done so from a position of lowly standings, a national team languishing since Professionalism and a board that has ‘Firefighting’ in its mission statement. Our board’s greatest success in the ‘Noughties’ was to employ an accountant to isolate our expenditure and shrink our Union’s debt.
Boy would the RFU love a Gordon McKie right now.
At the weekend I had the great fortune to talk to a former English International (who I will not name, for fear of Martyn Thomas tracking us down) and he may or may not have shown me parts of the Blackett report. A report, by the way, that although not officially released has been leaked to most of the national newspapers and news outlets down South.
This former England cap pointed out to me that the issue with the RFU is that it is one clamouring to retain its status, control the game from within its halls and try to reclaim some cash.
“The board want to control rugby,” he said. “At the AGM one of the board members said to a club representative, “What you don’t realise is that it is US [the RFU board] that control the game, not YOU.” That is unbelievable!
“What the RFU need is a Chief Executive used to running a £500m business. Not guys trying to hang on to their positions. The English union is losing money and that is why they are so desperate to host the World Cup in 2015: they need it, financially.”
There is the rub. People hanging about for much longer than they are needed, or for longer than they are capable of doing the job, do so because they crave the power and the benefits.
Since McKie stepped down, how many personnel changes have there been at the top of the SRU? For the sake of the SRU’s future we must choose our next Chief Executive carefully, and constantly keep a balance between rugby and finances. We must learn from our neighbours and their mistakes.
We are open about our issues in so far as our debt is a talking point because the SRU put it into the public domain. Martyn Thomas, on the other hand, is threatening legal action if anyone takes the report outwith Twickenham.
Scotland admits its need for as much revenue as it can muster. England pretend that an ‘All Black’ change jersey is a tactic to rile the Kiwis rather than a marketing ploy to try and raise some funds from another exotic jersey speculated to retail at roughly £90.
Scotland’s board does seem to be retaining plenty of its old guard but is doing so to refocus on rugby rather than finance. It would seem doing just that is what landed England in this mess. They bamboozled the punters with talk of rugby coaching restructures, and Rob Andrew’s sideways movements for so long that no one seemed to be looking at the balance sheet. They should have done both.
For this reason it could be made easier to swallow that vastly salaried Eamon Hegarty stays on at Murrayfield, because we need at least one money man laying the foundations for Scotland’s gloriously rugby-minded new Chief Exec.
For England it is a case of how the mighty have fallen.
Both of the Auld Enemies face contemporary problems. Rugby is not as popular as it once was. In England playing numbers are still falling regardless of the money they are throwing at it, and despite the spin coming out of Murrayfield, few youngsters continue playing rugby once it is free for them to choose to do something else in this country.
For us we need some glory to reignite the nation’s passion. For England they need to save face and they also need to make their report public. For me? It is just refreshing to see someone else’s governing body stumble and fall. Particularly one so close to playing us and already thinking about pools for their own lucrative World Cup.
This is not so much ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ as ‘Debts, Draws and Oval Balls’.