The RFU CEO spoke for the first time in nearly nine months after a year which has seen four clubs go bust
Bill Sweeney remains resolute in the belief that he is the man to lead the RFU forward despite presiding over the darkest 12 months in the governing body’s history, stating “we are on the cusp of something spectacular”.
The RFU CEO broke a silence of nearly nine months to speak to media via Zoom this week after a year in which four English professional clubs (Worcester Warriors, Wasps, London Irish and Jersey Reds) have gone to the wall and the bungled tackle height reduction announcement sparked a grass-roots revolt in the community game.
Sweeney has had to stare down a 30-strong rebellion within the RFU Council which questioned his leadership and the organisation’s financial standing. However, Sweeney who has been in the top job since May 2019, insisted those trying to oust him had been “pretty cynical” and were not acting in the best interest of the game.
Bill Sweeney on why he is the right man for the job
He said: “There’s probably a large number of my friends and family who would be quite happy if I didn’t do it any longer. But I do believe that we are on the cusp of something quite spectacular here.
“This has been a unique moment in time, because of the financial challenges, because of the working relationship with PRL, our ability to change that relationship around the partnership, to fix the things that have stopped us winning Six Nations championships on a regular basis. To have more consistently performing England teams.
“The work that we’re doing in World Rugby around Nations Cup, the global calendar, that all plays into this as well. And I feel that I have the energy, that I’ve got the passion and I’ve got the desire to see this through. Now if somebody else thinks differently about that, that’s also equally fine.
“But that’s the reason why, you don’t wake up every morning enjoying it, but that’s the reason why I would like to carry on.”
Sweeney is in the midst of thrashing out the crucial new Professional Game Agreement with Premiership Rugby which is attempting to fix the structural issues that Sweeney admitted exist in the game as well as placing 25 men’s England stars on so-called hybrid contracts in the 2024-25 season.
RFU CEO on fixing English game
He added: “We need to fix a number of issues that have been broken for some time. We know how the English game has been structured and how it has gone. There are certain issues attached to that which have been persistent and have been structural which need to be addressed if we are going to get things done.
“We have won four Six Nations and one World Cup in twenty years. That is not what you would expect from us as an organisation. Regardless of what happens at this year’s World Cup, wherever we end up, the system has to change. That takes us on to the Professional Game Partnership.
“Throughout that period we have had successive management teams in place and the critical fundamental issues have not been addressed. That is what we are really focused on doing. This is a unique moment, an opportunity in time to get that done in collaboration with the professional game.
“There is something to be said for stability and clarity and direction. I don’t know how many CEOs we have had in the RFU since 2003 but I am guessing it is five, six, seven perhaps. I am not sure any head coach has left willingly. I am pretty sure every head coach over that period has been fired.
“If you compare that to the Ireland model or the New Zealand model, it is entirely different. There is a continuity, there is a stability, a clarity of direction which eventually shows up on the field of play, as much as it does off [the field of play], and that is something we are very keen to address.
The opportunity around the professional game partnership is to bring the elite game together to make sure we can thrive and to make sure we have consistently competitive teams and we don’t have boom and bust periods when it is more based on hope; a great raft of talent coming through the game and we rely on that and we then have a period of quiet and we are unable to maintain that level of consistency. That is a major focus for us in a number of areas, in terms of performance pathways, academy structures and translate the talent through into the men’s game.”
Elsewhere, Sweeney categorically denied claims by Championship chairman Simon Halliday that he had “repeatedly warned” the RFU about last season’s winners Jersey Reds who ceased trading last week and are now heading for liquidation after the Jersey Government refused to provide any further funding to the Channel Islanders.