|Former manager Martin Johnson was criticised for failing to deal with the fallout from Mike Tindall’s drunken night out, for which he was eventually fined [GALLO/GETTY]|
Leaked reports into England’s rugby World Cup debacle paint a picture of a squad in meltdown and expose schisms and leadership failings greater than even their dismal performance had suggested.
A trio of reviews by the Rugby Football Union’s director of elite rugby Rob Andrew; the players’ union; and professional clubs, had not been intended to be seen by the public, but were obtained by British broadsheet the Times.
The London-based newspaper revealed the reports’ contents on Wednesday in a grim account of ill-discipline, greed, division and mismanagement.
The Professional Game Board (PGB), the RFU body heading the internal inquiry into the World Cup campaign, said on Wednesday it was disappointed the reports had been leaked when it had promised those involved that their views would remain private.
England’s campaign in New Zealand ended in abject failure with a 19-12 quarter-final loss to France last month, but more tellingly, it was characterised by poor discipline and poor decisions throughout, both on the pitch and off it.
Stalwart Mike Tindall was belatedly fined $39,100 for his drunken behaviour during a night out in Queenstown, but the ramifications of that now-infamous evening sent shudders through the squad, with coach Martin Johnson criticised in the reports for failing to discipline players involved.
“I suppose we just wanted Johnno to have the (courage) to take action, especially after the Tindall night. He was too loyal and that was his downfall,” one player was quoted as saying in the leaked report.
The players’ report, compiled by the Rugby Players’ Association, was based on anonymous interviews with more than 90 percent of the players, the Times reported, and it highlighted a divide between the senior members and the rest of the squad.
It made a series of recommendations – all centred on discipline – including more accountability, a stricter regime and a clear alcohol policy.
“We had meetings where ‘values’ were discussed but they felt like empty words,” one player said in the report, while another added: “If it’s the senior players leading drinking games or drinking until they can’t remember anything, what example are the younger players set?”
It concluded: “This report is not setting out to absolve the players from making mistakes, as they surely did both on and off the field.
“In a culture of honesty and success … players need to accept their shortcomings in what has to be seen as a golden opportunity gone begging.”
The entire coaching set-up came under fire in the players’ report, except for scrum coach Graham Rowntree, who was praised.
“They’d had four years to develop a plan for the World Cup and it felt like they were doing it off-the-cuff in New Zealand. “
– Anonymous player
“They’d had four years to develop a plan for the World Cup and it felt like they were doing it off-the-cuff in New Zealand,” one player said.
“I’ve never played well in an England shirt,” said another.
“I try my best but I know the game plan doesn’t suit me and I’m not confident because I don’t believe in what we’re following.”
The report said: “It is clear that (the England) environment is vastly different to those at their clubs where players are trusted, assured of ongoing support and have good working relationships with coaches and team mates who share a vision in how they operate and in all aspects of their professional lives.
This needs to be urgently addressed.”
The three reports paint a picture of broken team spirit and of some individuals more interested in making money than representing England.
One player reported hearing another, after the quarter-final loss, saying: “There’s 35,000 pounds … down the toilet.”
The player said: “That made me sick. Money shouldn’t even come into a player’s mind.”
The Times quoted Rob Andrew’s report as saying: “It is very disappointing that a senior group, led by the captain Lewis Moody, disputed the level of payment for the World Cup squad which led to meetings with RFU executives.
“I believe this led to a further unsettling of the squad just before departure which included a threat by the squad not to attend the World Cup send-off dinner, at Twickenham. It suggested that some of the senior players were more focused on money than getting the rugby right.”
Responding to the leaked report, PGB chairman Ian Metcalfe said in a statement on Wednesday:
“It is disappointing and frustrating that confidential reports submitted to the PGB have been put into the public domain when all involved were promised that their views would remain private for the ultimate goal of improving the England team.
“The reporting of selective elements of those documents is also counter-productive to that aim.
“There will naturally be a wide range of views surrounding the rugby World Cup and the PGB review was set up to take into account all feedback from all parties.
“There has been a clear process that has been followed which will culminate in fair and balanced recommendations to the RFU Board of Directors on November 30.”
The publication of the report, and the extent of the problems within English rugby, are likely to do little to help attract a top-notch coach to replace Johnson, who stepped down earlier this month.
New Zealand’s World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry earlier this week ruled himself out of the running with Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder tipped by insiders for the job.
Still effectively rudderless at boardroom level, without a national team coach, and now rocked by a series of withering attacks, England will want to move decisively to put its house in order before hosting the next World Cup in 2015.