Extra Time: Rob Andrew - Former director of professional rugby, RFU HARDtalk


Extra Time: Rob Andrew - Former director of professional rugby, RFU

Rob Bonnet speaks to former rugby union England international Rob Andrew, who spent ten years as a top administrator at the Rugby Football Union.


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Now on BBC News, Extra Time.

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Welcome to Extra Time.

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Rugby union has never

been so popular.

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The World Cup is touted

as the third-biggest sporting event

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in the world.

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Player salaries get ever larger,

and the game expands

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into new territories,

from Georgia to China.

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And yet my guest today

says the sport could be

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brought to its knees if ongoing

tensions between the game's major

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stakeholders turn sour.

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Rob Andrew is a former

England international,

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and last year, he ended ten years

as a top administrator

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at the Rugby Football Union.

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What is his game plan

for securing rugby's future?

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Rob Andrew, welcome to Extra Time.

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Thank you.

One of the most

eye-catching phrases in your book is

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particularly doom laden. You write

interests and conflict at the height

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of rugby on this planet to be easily

bring the entire sport to its knees.

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Why do you say that?

Well, it is an

interesting point, and actually just

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this last few days, with the

southern hemisphere teams coming up

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to the north, and Barbarians playing

the All Blacks, the southern

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hemisphere unions themselves, and

all three chief executives, have

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come out and said there are real

threat to the southern hemisphere

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game. Lots of players leaving the

southern hemisphere for the riches

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of the north, in England and in

France, and there is a sort of

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danger that, over time, the rich

clubs of France and England will

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hoover up all of the best players,

put real pressure is on the southern

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hemisphere. Not only will they lose

test players, but they will lose

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players from the level below, which

means their own domestic games are

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damaged, and I think there is a real

risk.

Let me quote an example. 25

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euros charge Childs has a £1 billion

deal to play. You can't blame the

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player for wanting to earn money,

you can't blame the owners warning

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to attract the best talent. So how

do you resolve this?

And it goes to

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the very heart of what has happened

in the last 20 years. And look, I

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was at the beginning of that in

1995, when I went to Newcastle with

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Sir John Hall, and we were

criticised for paying exorbitant

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salaries then of £50,000 per year.

Now, you have this issue in rugby

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where the game is split between

union control and private ownership,

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which is a bit of a football model.

And it just creates loads and loads

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of tensions.

On the model in

football is that the club owners get

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more and more powerful. Do you see

the same happening in rugby union?

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Undoubtedly, there is no question of

that. It is probably only in England

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and France that this happens, so we

almost have a two tier system in

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rugby. We have private club

ownership in England and France,

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with significant amounts of money,

significant wealth in owners who are

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not just millionaires now but

billionaires. There were

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millionaires when they came into the

game, Sir John Hall and Nigel Ray,

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Nigel and those guys are still

there. And it just creates pressure.

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And when the athlete in the middle

is wanted by two owners,

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effectively, then you have tension.

And rugby has always had this

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tension. And a big part of my role,

the reason I went to the RFU, was to

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try and control that tension, if you

like, and create a working

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environment. At its very difficult,

and the more money that gets

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involved, the bigger those tensions

become.

How much to the club owners

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care about international rugby?

Well, I think deep down they still

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do. And I think deep down...

They

don't act as if they do.

It is a

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really difficult challenge, and one

of the big debates that is happening

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at the moment is around season

structure and length of season, and

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what the owners don't like... And to

be honest I didn't like very much

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when I was at Newcastle with Sir

John Hall, where your best player,

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we had Jonny Wilkinson, went missing

the big parts of the season. And it

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is a bit like club football. Man

United and Chelsea and Spurs

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allowing, say, Harry Kane to go

missing for three months of the

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season. And that is a challenge that

rugby has to deal with the next few

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years.

But you take someone like

S-bend, he says I could have stayed

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to be an All Black great that rugby

is not forever. So he is choosing

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big money, quick money, for what

could be quite a short career.

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Whether he stays in northern England

or not.

You can't blame players, I

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mean, who would have thought...

For

all the of the All Black jersey,

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which in our four goes.

And this is

the issue. I'm not saying anybody is

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right or wrong, but what I am saying

the market will dictate, the market

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forces, whether it is football,

cricket now, with T20, rugby, the

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market will determine where the

asset ends up.

And not the pride of

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the jersey.

Well, not if you are

talking about millions of pounds,

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which are life changing. And this

would clearly... In the amateur era,

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none of this ever happened. But I

suppose it is one of the

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consequences of going professional.

And did we all have a crystal ball

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1995, when it went professional?

You

couldn't see this coming?

Well,

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maybe we should have done. But even

then, in 1995, remember, the Premier

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League soccer had only been running

since 1982. So the Premier League

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soccer is only 25 years old and

could any of us have imagined the in

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English foot or? £1 million rugby

player, or IPL cricket getting

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millions of pounds for six weeks'

work.

Part of this is about

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eligibility, isn't it? Let's talk

about Nathan Hughes, a Fijian

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eligible for New Zealand, but

switching to England and is in Eddie

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Jones's squad after three years

here. So the question is whether

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three years is long enough for

residency. Why not make it five, why

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not make it never?

Yes, well, I

think that is another debate.

That

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is one for the lawyers?

It is one

for the administrators. World rugby

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are looking at that at the moment.

Everyone accepts three years is too

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short.

What do you think?

Three

years is definitely too short, could

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be five, could be seven.

Seven, as

many as seven years?

I think Tom if

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you don't do something, it means

that the islanders, in particular,

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who leave Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, to go

to Fiji or Australia, it is not just

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England, they are going to do it if

the rules allow a -- New Zealand or

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Australia. You can't blame the

player, can you?

So you might say

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seven years' residency is the

minimum. Does that have a cat's

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chance of coming through?

I think

maybe five years, but even his five

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years enough? But again, the whole

point here is that the game is

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turning on its axis, and actually,

there are real financial and

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planning challenges that will have a

longer term impact, as we move

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through. And who is to say that, in

time, the impact on the England

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national team won't be affected as

well. Because, a bit like soccer, if

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all of the best players come to play

in England or France, because we

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have got the biggest league...

Then

they won't have the playing

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experience.

So you are back into

this Catch-22 situation, and the

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debate in English soccer, winning

the World Cup or the under 16 or the

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under 20, will those talented

players get the opportunity.

You

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write in your book, without

compromises, the World Cup model

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will be under threat. Can you

outlined to me how this Komla most

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will be reached? Maybe it is the

five-year residency limit? Other are

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the rules you would like to bring

in?

Well, I think it is about the

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residency, but it is about how do

you ensure that there is enough

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money going around the key players

in the southern hemisphere. And that

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is one of the biggest challenges for

South Africa, Australia and New

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Zealand, is how do they keep enough

talent at home to keep their game is

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vibrant.

So is it a fairer

distribution of wealth amongst the

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nation 's?

Well, we have had those

discussions, and those are down

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difficult discussions to have, to

say Will the big give to the poorer?

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The RFU is reporting that the new

international laws are failing to

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reduce the number of so-called

involvements, or collisions. On the

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contrary, these episodes are on the

increase. What is to be done about

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player safety in rugby union? Has

become a desperately brutal game.

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Yes, but I think it has. I think

there is a genuine belief amongst

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world rugby, and all the unions, to

try and find a solution to something

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that, once you go professional and

you create these phenomenal

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athletes, and you turn the dial up

as far as we have, the difficulty is

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turning it back down again.

Do you

think it could even get hotter, as

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it were?

Well, I am not sure how

much hotter it could get, to be

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honest, but it is a challenge. And

one of the biggest challenges is, as

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you say, the number of involvements.

We talk about collisions in rugby. I

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mean, we never talked about

collisions when I played. You talked

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about getting out of the way of

collisions, not sort of having

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collisions. Now, we talk about lots

of hits and collisions, and it has

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sort of change the way people think

about the game.

There is now talk of

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strike action by the players, in

order to preserve, effectively,

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their careers, and maybe even the

health and later life. Is that

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something you would support? Is that

something that you might even engage

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in, if you were still playing?

I

think if I was a player I would be

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certainly engaging in it, in terms

of protecting...

Would you go on

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strike if you were?

Well, you would

certainly question what is being

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proposed at the moment, in terms of

the welfare of the individual. It is

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a very tough, long season. And this

goes to the heart of the conflict

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between the union and the club.

Because the club owners want to

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stretch the season out, so that

their players are playing for them

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more than they are for the union.

And, if you are a player, you have

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only one course of action, which is

actually to say, look, I am not

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prepared to go on the field. And

that is one of the biggest

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challenges.

Well, long-term

consequences, of course, are in the

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Mexia. Brain damage. But there could

one day at the elite level be a

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death on the pitch. I mean, I don't

want to be scaremongering about this

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but we know that at levels below the

professional game there have been

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incidents like that. A 19-year-old

early the this year in New Zealand

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died as a result of injuries he

sustained on the pitch. Is that what

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it will take for rugby to come to

its senses?

For goodness's sake, we

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will pray and hope that that does

not a occur, and there has always

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been an element of risk in rugby,

and sadly I was involved at school

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with one of my best mates who has

been a paraplegic for nearly 40

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years, who dedicate the book too, a

called Kris McKeon, and Rory and I

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were on the school field when he was

injured in a tackle in the late 70s.

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And it is always the one thing that

I sort of hate most about the game,

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if you like, that...

It has

obviously had a profound affect on

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you.

It has, and Chris is still

alive, he is a remarkable human

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being, who has not got any malice

towards the game. But, in, he was 15

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years when this happened. And... So

injury in rugby is something that is

0:12:100:12:21

very close to my heart. And I think

it is a real issue for the game that

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cannot be taken too lightly. And

there is a danger, if things

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aren't... If something doesn't

happen to turn down this dial,

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people will get put off playing

rugby. And I don't want that, I

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don't want that at all. What you

already here on touchlines, with

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parents, mums in particular, and

just sort of do they really want

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their children to be playing rugby?

And those things snowballed. And

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what I have seen in sport, very

quickly, over the last sort of

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decade, maybe slightly longer, is

the pace of change in modern life,

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particularly when it is associated

with sport, can happen like that.

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And if you are not careful, you

could be two, three, four, five

0:13:050:13:09

years down the line, and there are

bigger issues at play there.

A

0:13:090:13:12

curious thing here, Rob, is that the

players want to play, of course they

0:13:120:13:19

want to play, because they love the

game, but also that they are

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reckless about the damage to their

bodies, and some even relish the

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pain. A quote from one prop, the

pain bonds you as a team. From that

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you get a deeper learning of each

other, a deeper trust each other.

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How do you react to that?

Yes, and I

understand that. I understand that

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from Dan. He was a front row

forward, I understood it when I

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played. There was a bond around the

physical nature of the sport. I

0:13:430:13:46

think there comes a point when the

administrators of the game have a

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much wider responsibility to protect

the players from themselves, and to

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protect the long-term interests of

the game, so that in 50 years' time,

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the game is still being played, and

is still a sport of choice for young

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people. Because it has so many

qualities. But, as I say, there is

0:14:070:14:12

an alarm going off here, and I think

people are hearing it, and it is

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finding the answer that is always

the damned difficult thing to do.

0:14:170:14:29

Let's talk about your thymic

clicking them. You spoke about the

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2012 World Cup as a pet. --

Twickenham. What you are talking

0:14:340:14:39

about is that you failed to employ

any meaningful programme to ensure

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consistency in progress.

That is one

way of interpreting it. Some people

0:14:440:14:53

would agree with you, and some

people would say that, but I would

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disagree with that, and say...

On

what basis?

I would say that when

0:14:580:15:03

you look at sporting systems, and

there was not a great deal of system

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work back in English rugby in 2006,

which is what I mean by that... In

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2003 was that once every ten years

England team. The 2011 and 2015

0:15:150:15:26

World Cups were clearly very

difficult. Systems take years to

0:15:260:15:31

build. When you talk to UK sport or

any sporting organisation, there is

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a timeline to these things. The

proof will be in the pudding over

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the next ten years.

So talking about

the World Cup in 2019, if you win

0:15:400:15:49

that, you are saying that it would

be to your credit, because you put

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the systems...

No, I am not saying

that. But if you understand sport

0:15:540:15:59

systems, you understand how long it

takes to put these things into

0:15:590:16:03

place. From 2008, you do need that

time. That is not to say that in

0:16:030:16:09

2015 the team should not have done

better, but over the next decade,

0:16:090:16:12

given the quality of talent in the

system that is in place in England,

0:16:120:16:17

and the depth of talent, then

England should do well, that is my

0:16:170:16:20

view. And I said that before the

2015 World Cup and I stick with it.

0:16:200:16:25

That doesn't mean to say that things

will not go wrong with team

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selection and all the rest of us to

make it. -- or the rest of it.

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Somebody wrote about your time at

Twickenham and said it was

0:16:360:16:40

disastrous. He pointed to previous

appointments, and of course, you

0:16:400:16:49

have a ready referred to 2015, which

was a disaster. If there was a car

0:16:490:16:57

crash, then it was Andrew that were

sitting behind the wheel, that was

0:16:570:17:01

what was written.

He is gone.

It is

a well-respected writer. He is a

0:17:010:17:08

well respected writer.

By some, but

not all. I think he has had an

0:17:080:17:13

agenda for most of his career, as

far as I can see.

An anti-Andrew a

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gender?

Yes, I think so. I think it

is about understanding what people's

0:17:270:17:40

roles are. -- agenda. My role at

times at the RFU, and I said this

0:17:400:17:48

many times, I made mistakes. And I

think most respected rugby

0:17:480:17:52

journalists understand what was

going on. Stephen has his view and

0:17:520:17:56

has headed for 30. When I respect

that view or not is up to me.

Some

0:17:560:18:02

of the difficulties were obviously

beyond your control, the moment in

0:18:020:18:06

2011 Dean, when a tragedy attention

of the Auckland Blues. -- 2011,

0:18:060:18:20

when.

-- police. Things happened

under Martin's rain. Players let him

0:18:200:18:25

down. There is no question. Senior

players let him down. They have got

0:18:250:18:31

to look in the mirror and work out

whether they did or they didn't. I

0:18:310:18:36

nor the position was and I think

mine does. And then obviously with

0:18:360:18:40

the end of the World Cup, going out

to France in the quarter-final, we

0:18:400:18:44

sat around having dinner in

Auckland, and the whole of the

0:18:440:18:49

management team - and they are

pretty big management teams now,

0:18:490:18:52

with rugby, possibly as many as

players - and that is the modern

0:18:520:18:58

way, isn't it? And a phone rang, and

I was sat virtually opposite John,

0:18:580:19:08

and you could hear him go, yes, he

is what? He's? And he's been

0:19:080:19:17

arrested? Issey OK? And it was sort

of - poor old Tom, and the farmers

0:19:170:19:31

were done, and we said what on

earth. And it was Toby Flood who

0:19:310:19:38

basically said we are on a ferry on

the way back to Auckland Harbour. --

0:19:380:19:43

is he OK. One minute he was there,

the next minute he was in the

0:19:430:19:49

harbour.

Eventually, he was fished

out, was in the? But the fact is

0:19:490:19:54

that he has been in trouble here in

the UK, once with the police, and

0:19:540:19:58

once with Eddie Jones, the head

coach. Is he a liability? Is he

0:19:580:20:02

worth it?

How many chances to

coaches give players? I think that

0:20:020:20:08

is one of the issues.

We have

mentioned three incidents, three and

0:20:080:20:15

you are out, is that?

I think is one

of those examples of the modern

0:20:150:20:20

game, modern characters, the amount

of money, the level of

0:20:200:20:24

responsibility that you would expect

place to take not just in rugby but

0:20:240:20:30

other sports as well. We are in the

modern world and the modern media,

0:20:300:20:34

and players to need to take more

responsibility, or coaches are

0:20:340:20:43

effectively forced to lock people in

their rooms.

And wouldn't that be a

0:20:430:20:47

crazy position? Let's talk about

Eddie Jones. You are nearly at the

0:20:470:20:52

end of your time at Twickenham when

he was a appointed coach. Could you

0:20:520:20:57

take credit for what appears to have

been a successful decision?

That is

0:20:570:21:01

the other thing I mentioned. Have

your point President Almazbek

0:21:010:21:04

Atambayev you have a recruitment

process with really experienced

0:21:040:21:13

people?

And one of those on the

current panel was an Englishman, was

0:21:130:21:20

in the?

At the time, it was felt

that it was the right thing at the

0:21:200:21:25

right time for English rugby. And

again Stephen Jones, get your facts

0:21:250:21:30

right, I didn't our point Lancaster,

not that it means much to him, but

0:21:300:21:39

it is one of those things where, you

look at the Eddie Jones appointment,

0:21:390:21:45

and the decision was taken that we

have two have a coach with

0:21:450:21:49

international experience. -- didn't

appoint. They will not be English.

0:21:490:21:52

Because you have just sacked one

with international experience. The

0:21:520:21:59

decision there which can talk with

the backing of the board, and he and

0:21:590:22:05

I spoke about it, was who was

available at the moment. -- Ian. Who

0:22:050:22:11

can come in and take a good group of

players, and yes, it has talent

0:22:110:22:19

there, but some do with

international experience.

I will

0:22:190:22:26

move you on, because running out of

time. But any information on the

0:22:260:22:31

2023 World Cup? In so could be South

Africa. I learned the Irish are

0:22:310:22:40

disappointed.

These processes are

very robust in terms of what you

0:22:400:22:48

have to go through. Ireland, France,

and South Africa have, I suspect,

0:22:480:22:53

put in strong bids. Had they come to

the final decision is down to the

0:22:530:23:00

board. Of course Ireland will be

hugely disappointed if they don't

0:23:000:23:03

get it. But equally, South Africa

was a wonderful World Cup in 1985.

0:23:030:23:11

France was wonderful in 2007. They

would all do great jobs.

A final

0:23:110:23:17

question and a brief and said he

will. England for 2019 of the World

0:23:170:23:22

Cup, had you read their chances 1-

ten, with sending winners?

It is up

0:23:220:23:28

there. The top end of that scale.

There is no cushion about that. This

0:23:280:23:33

is already a strong English group of

players. Two years ago. They will

0:23:330:23:39

get better. And then it will be down

to in those eight weeks, have they

0:23:390:23:44

got their preparation right, and

they got selection right, can they

0:23:440:23:49

handled it pressure, which is what

marks out the World Cup winning

0:23:490:23:53

teams. 2003 do that. But in only one

we didn't in the World Cup final.

0:23:530:23:58

This team is probably the nearest he

would have had in two years time

0:23:580:24:05

that will have a real chance when

they go to Japan.

Thank you very a

0:24:050:24:09

much indeed. -- Thank you very much

indeed.

0:24:090:24:28

Rugby union has never been so popular. The World Cup is touted as the third biggest sporting event in the world. Player salaries get ever larger and the game expands into new territories from Georgia to China. And yet former England international Rob Andrew says the sport could be brought to its knees if ongoing tensions between the game's major stakeholders turn sour. Last year he ended 10 years as a top administrator at the Rugby Football Union. Extra Time's Rob Bonnet asks Rob Andrew what his game plan is for securing rugby's future.