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Thomas reassures Steele over plans

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Martyn Thomas

Martyn Thomas

Martyn Thomas

Rugby Football Union chairman Martyn Thomas has assured chief executive John Steele the board remain firmly behind his plans to modernise the organisation.

Twickenham's two most senior executives met on Friday for 90 minutes of clear the air talks at the end of a damaging week for the union. The RFU's double u-turn over the job description for the vacant performance director role exposed potentially damaging divisions in the senior management at Twickenham.

Steele's proposal to downgrade the position by removing all influence over the senior England team was approved unanimously by the management board and announced on Tuesday. But at an emergency meeting the board voted to reverse that decision - thereby scrapping Steele's proposal - by a narrow majority.

The new performance director will be England manager Martin Johnson's direct boss, although it was agreed he will not have any hands-on involvement in the team's 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign.

Thomas met with Steele for 90 minutes at Twickenham to smooth the situation over, assuring him the board remain fully behind his plans to restructure the RFU management. Press Association Sport understands Steele and Thomas then sent a joint note reinforcing that point to all RFU council members.

The issue will be raised again for discussion at a scheduled management board meeting. It is understood no interviews for the performance director job will be conducted until after then. The agenda for the next board meeting in two weeks' time is already full, meaning the process is unlikely to begin until early summer.

The RFU had hoped to announce the performance director in March, on the same day as Rob Andrew and Steve Grainger were confirmed as the new operations and development directors.

The process was initially delayed because not all the candidates could commit to the lengthy interview process. The RFU now has a three-man shortlist for the job, which is mainly focused on player development below the Test team. England cricket managing director Hugh Morris and England Saxons coach Stuart Lancaster, currently head of player development at the RFU, have both been linked to the position.

It is understood the RFU's volte-face was prompted by some officials growing concerned that watering down the job had been interpreted as closing the door on a potential return for Sir Clive Woodward. England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach has been favourite for the position from its creation in January and Woodward has some influential supporters inside Twickenham.

Many believe Woodward's rugby experience coupled with an acute understanding of high performance from his work with the British Olympic Association make him the idea candidate. However that is not a universally held view, with some opponents convinced it would be a retrograde step for the RFU to bring Woodward back on board.

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