Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

RFU to expect further criticism

Aviva Premiership action

High-ranking officials from the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs are this week expected to add their voices to the barrage of criticism being aimed at the strife-torn Rugby Football Union.

Premiership Rugby is staging its annual pre-season conference over the next two days and the club's concerns over recent events at Twickenham will be high on the agenda.

England's Rugby World Cup campaign kicks off in eight weeks and on October 23 the RFU will pick up the baton as host nation for the 2015 tournament, but the RFU is in disarray. The sport's governing body in England does not have a permanent chairman, chief executive, finance director or performance director in place.

Last Sunday, Judge Jeff Blackett produced a damning independent report which found a widespread belief that "governance at the top of the Union is broken".

The fall-out from Blackett's review plunged the RFU's reputation to depths previously unforeseen, prompting calls for significant reform and to professionalise the structure.

This week's conference will be the first opportunity for Premiership Rugby board members to review the mounting problems at the RFU.

"Clearly, we are concerned at the issues which have arisen at the RFU," said Premiership Rugby chairman Quentin Smith. "We shall be discussing these with the clubs and channelling their views back through the Professional Game Board."

The Premiership Rugby conference will be attended by club chairmen and chief executives, professional businessmen who are expected to take a dim view of the RFU's handling of recent events.

The RFU Council is comprised of representatives of the amateur game and their decisions have come into sharp focus over the last week. The Council commissioned Blackett to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring and firing of John Steele as chief executive.

Blackett recommended that chairman Martyn Thomas and the majority of the board should resign but he received little support from the Council. Thomas did stand down as chairman but he then threatened to sue Blackett for defamation if the 52-page report was published. The Council voted to keep the contents confidential.

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