Challenge to RFU leadership threatens to derail England’s Rugby World Cup campaign

Challenge to RFU leadership threatens to derail England’s Rugby World Cup campaign

A direct challenge to Bill Sweeney and Tom Ilube’s RFU leadership has threatened to undermine England’s Rugby World Cup campaign.

Chief executive Sweeney and chairman Ilube have been accused of inadequate leadership by almost half the members of the RFU council.

A letter signed by 30 of the 65 council members and sent to the RFU board on the eve of the World Cup has questioned Sweeney and Ilube’s leadership, especially over claimed forecasted financial losses.

Ilube has branded the letter and its timing “deeply disappointing”, with the RFU having expected full focus on England’s World Cup campaign.

England beat Argentina 27-10 in their opening World Cup match, and will face Japan in Nice on Sunday in their second Pool D fixture.

Sweeney and Ilube will now be fighting for their futures, with disquiet having dogged the RFU behind the scenes for months.

Sweeney nearly faced a no-confidence vote from grassroots clubs in January, after the RFU had mishandled communication regarding proposed tackle-height reductions.

The RFU boss had been criticised previously as well for allowing Eddie Jones’ England tenure to drag on until the latter stages of 2022 despite several years of mediocre results and performances.

Sweeney then opted to dismiss Jones in December, with Steve Borthwick installed but with only nine games to prepare for the World Cup.

The letter from RFU council members to the board amounts to a no-confidence call against Sweeney and Ilube, but the two top bosses are expected to continue to weather this storm.

Mixed views on the RFU leadership and direct are held across the remainder of the council however, and the current top men will look to seize upon that to stabilise their positions.

“If the present situation is allowed to persist, there is significant risk to the future of the union, the way it operates and its ability to invest in, sustain and grow the community, semi-professional and professional games,” reads the letter, sent to RFU president Rob Briers and dated September 11.

“As such, failure to act will further call into question the confidence we have in the senior leadership of the RFU.

“Whilst the impact of Covid-19 cannot be understated, nor the potential impact of the current challenging economic climate, recent forecasts show that the RFU is likely to make a substantial loss in every year bar one over the next nine years equating to £161m.

“This represents an existential threat to our game. Few private, public or third-party organisations would survive such continuing levels of loss, and their boards would also be held to account. The RFU board appears to be breaching one of the key objects of the union.”

Chairman Ilube responded with a statement to reveal his upset with both the timing of the letter and calls for those concerns to be debated in an emergency meeting ahead of the next RFU council meeting.

“The proposed council resolution regarding the governance and operation of the Rugby Football Union is deeply disappointing,” said Ilube.

“It was emailed on the eve of the opening of the Rugby World Cup when the game should be focused on supporting the England team.

“It also comes as important discussions regarding the Professional Game Partnership are taking place, while a consultation is underway on investing in the community game of the future, together with meetings with World Rugby and international unions regarding the structure of the global calendar and Nations Cup at which the RFU plays a key influential role.”