Who knew politics could be so interesting? Rob Andrew’s new book starts with a nod to his Test career, which was covered in his 1990s autobiography, but thereafter revolves largely around the grim cycle of boardroom power plays, internal reviews (often leaked) and playing disasters that occurred during his decade working for the RFU.
Andrew took an unjust hammering from the media at times and in taking the opportunity to put the record straight, he has shown remarkable restraint. Many of his detractors had no real idea of his responsibilities or the almost farcical machinations being played out behind closed doors at HQ.
“The 16 months or so between Francis Baron’s exit as chief executive (in 2010) and the departure of Martyn Thomas were perhaps the most chaotic in the history of top-level sport in England,” writes Andrew. It’s hard to disagree.
Andrew is big enough to admit his mistakes, the shabby handling of Brian Ashton’s sacking arguably being the biggest. But in truth so much of went wrong for England in the Noughties and beyond stemmed from a collective failure by the union to agree on a structure and then unite behind the cause.
Matters finally reached a head after acting CEO Martyn Thomas loftily declared that Fran Cotton would conduct a review into England’s dire RWC 2011 campaign – something he had no authority to do – and a blazing boardroom row ensued. Thomas was gone soon after.
Not until the last embers of 2011, when Andrew had been given a new title as professional rugby director and colleagues wore Rob Andrew masks at the Christmas party as a show of solidarity, did the Yorkshireman feel a lifting of spirits and a sense that the worst was behind him.
Even England’s 2015 World Cup flop was easy to bear in comparison to those dark days when national coaches were hamstrung by player unavailability and the reigns of Andy Robinson, Ashton and Martin Johnson each ended in acrimony.
The book, penned with the help of Chris Hewett and David Norrie, is not all doom and gloom. A sizeable rump is dedicated to Andrew’s 11 years at Newcastle Falcons, where Sir John Hall’s vision for a four-pronged sporting club operating on similar lines to Barcelona first put the cat among the RFU pigeons.
The chapter on Jonny Wilkinson, who joined the Falcons on £12k a year and was mentored by Andrew, is a brilliant analysis of the soon-to-be superstar, while few people knew just how close the club came to signing Rupeni Caucaunibuca (Matt Burke was a safer bet!) or folding without Northern Rock’s generous millions.
Asked in 1999 to join a commission to fix the club-country divide, Andrew helped produce a paper that advocated many of the remedies seen in a later document, The Way Forward. That initial ‘Andrew Plan’ was rejected because of a controversial call to introduce franchises and scrap promotion and relegation – and thank goodness for that, many would say.
Nevertheless, the relative harmony that exists today between the RFU and Premiership clubs derives in large measure from Andrew’s sensitive negotiations after he switched camps, from club director to union suit, and applied some common sense to proceedings. Peter Wheeler, one of those representing the clubs, also emerged with great credit.
It may be an uneasy alliance based on hard cash, but the clubs now produce a stream of English-qualified talent via their academies and lease it to the RFU for worthwhile periods. Peace has replaced war and England have climbed the rankings – and Andrew has played a major part in that.
Andrew was a fine cricketer, scoring a century for Cambridge University against Notts in 1984, and the 54-year-old has now jumped sports to become chief executive of Sussex. We wish him well.
Rob Andrew: The Game of my Life is an excellent read published by Hodder & Stoughton, RRP £20 – click here to buy it. They’ve kindly provided us with six copies to give away in a competition. For a chance to win one, look at the photo below and answer the question beneath it, filling in your details. The competition closes on Tuesday 5 December.
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