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.
Welcome to Extra Time.
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 my guest today
says the sport could be
brought to its knees if ongoing
tensions between the game's major
stakeholders turn sour.
Rob Andrew is a former
and last year, he ended ten years
as a top administrator
at the Rugby Football Union.
What is his game plan
for securing rugby's future?
Rob Andrew, welcome to Extra Time.
One of the most
eye-catching phrases in your book is
particularly doom laden. You write
interests and conflict at the height
of rugby on this planet to be easily
bring the entire sport to its knees.
Why do you say that?
Well, it is an
interesting point, and actually just
this last few days, with the
southern hemisphere teams coming up
to the north, and Barbarians playing
the All Blacks, the southern
hemisphere unions themselves, and
all three chief executives, have
come out and said there are real
threat to the southern hemisphere
game. Lots of players leaving the
southern hemisphere for the riches
of the north, in England and in
France, and there is a sort of
danger that, over time, the rich
clubs of France and England will
hoover up all of the best players,
put real pressure is on the southern
hemisphere. Not only will they lose
test players, but they will lose
players from the level below, which
means their own domestic games are
damaged, and I think there is a real
Let me quote an example. 25
euros charge Childs has a £1 billion
deal to play. You can't blame the
player for wanting to earn money,
you can't blame the owners warning
to attract the best talent. So how
do you resolve this?
And it goes to
the very heart of what has happened
in the last 20 years. And look, I
was at the beginning of that in
1995, when I went to Newcastle with
Sir John Hall, and we were
criticised for paying exorbitant
salaries then of £50,000 per year.
Now, you have this issue in rugby
where the game is split between
union control and private ownership,
which is a bit of a football model.
And it just creates loads and loads
On the model in
football is that the club owners get
more and more powerful. Do you see
the same happening in rugby union?
Undoubtedly, there is no question of
that. It is probably only in England
and France that this happens, so we
almost have a two tier system in
rugby. We have private club
ownership in England and France,
with significant amounts of money,
significant wealth in owners who are
not just millionaires now but
billionaires. There were
millionaires when they came into the
game, Sir John Hall and Nigel Ray,
Nigel and those guys are still
there. And it just creates pressure.
And when the athlete in the middle
is wanted by two owners,
effectively, then you have tension.
And rugby has always had this
tension. And a big part of my role,
the reason I went to the RFU, was to
try and control that tension, if you
like, and create a working
environment. At its very difficult,
and the more money that gets
involved, the bigger those tensions
How much to the club owners
care about international rugby?
Well, I think deep down they still
do. And I think deep down...
don't act as if they do.
It is a
really difficult challenge, and one
of the big debates that is happening
at the moment is around season
structure and length of season, and
what the owners don't like... And to
be honest I didn't like very much
when I was at Newcastle with Sir
John Hall, where your best player,
we had Jonny Wilkinson, went missing
the big parts of the season. And it
is a bit like club football. Man
United and Chelsea and Spurs
allowing, say, Harry Kane to go
missing for three months of the
season. And that is a challenge that
rugby has to deal with the next few
But you take someone like
S-bend, he says I could have stayed
to be an All Black great that rugby
is not forever. So he is choosing
big money, quick money, for what
could be quite a short career.
Whether he stays in northern England
You can't blame players, I
mean, who would have thought...
all the of the All Black jersey,
which in our four goes.
And this is
the issue. I'm not saying anybody is
right or wrong, but what I am saying
the market will dictate, the market
forces, whether it is football,
cricket now, with T20, rugby, the
market will determine where the
asset ends up.
And not the pride of
Well, not if you are
talking about millions of pounds,
which are life changing. And this
would clearly... In the amateur era,
none of this ever happened. But I
suppose it is one of the
consequences of going professional.
And did we all have a crystal ball
1995, when it went professional?
couldn't see this coming?
maybe we should have done. But even
then, in 1995, remember, the Premier
League soccer had only been running
since 1982. So the Premier League
soccer is only 25 years old and
could any of us have imagined the in
English foot or? £1 million rugby
player, or IPL cricket getting
millions of pounds for six weeks'
Part of this is about
eligibility, isn't it? Let's talk
about Nathan Hughes, a Fijian
eligible for New Zealand, but
switching to England and is in Eddie
Jones's squad after three years
here. So the question is whether
three years is long enough for
residency. Why not make it five, why
not make it never?
Yes, well, I
think that is another debate.
is one for the lawyers?
It is one
for the administrators. World rugby
are looking at that at the moment.
Everyone accepts three years is too
What do you think?
years is definitely too short, could
be five, could be seven.
many as seven years?
I think Tom if
you don't do something, it means
that the islanders, in particular,
who leave Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, to go
to Fiji or Australia, it is not just
England, they are going to do it if
the rules allow a -- New Zealand or
Australia. You can't blame the
player, can you?
So you might say
seven years' residency is the
minimum. Does that have a cat's
chance of coming through?
maybe five years, but even his five
years enough? But again, the whole
point here is that the game is
turning on its axis, and actually,
there are real financial and
planning challenges that will have a
longer term impact, as we move
through. And who is to say that, in
time, the impact on the England
national team won't be affected as
well. Because, a bit like soccer, if
all of the best players come to play
in England or France, because we
have got the biggest league...
they won't have the playing
So you are back into
this Catch-22 situation, and the
debate in English soccer, winning
the World Cup or the under 16 or the
under 20, will those talented
players get the opportunity.
write in your book, without
compromises, the World Cup model
will be under threat. Can you
outlined to me how this Komla most
will be reached? Maybe it is the
five-year residency limit? Other are
the rules you would like to bring
Well, I think it is about the
residency, but it is about how do
you ensure that there is enough
money going around the key players
in the southern hemisphere. And that
is one of the biggest challenges for
South Africa, Australia and New
Zealand, is how do they keep enough
talent at home to keep their game is
So is it a fairer
distribution of wealth amongst the
Well, we have had those
discussions, and those are down
difficult discussions to have, to
say Will the big give to the poorer?
The RFU is reporting that the new
international laws are failing to
reduce the number of so-called
involvements, or collisions. On the
contrary, these episodes are on the
increase. What is to be done about
player safety in rugby union? Has
become a desperately brutal game.
Yes, but I think it has. I think
there is a genuine belief amongst
world rugby, and all the unions, to
try and find a solution to something
that, once you go professional and
you create these phenomenal
athletes, and you turn the dial up
as far as we have, the difficulty is
turning it back down again.
think it could even get hotter, as
Well, I am not sure how
much hotter it could get, to be
honest, but it is a challenge. And
one of the biggest challenges is, as
you say, the number of involvements.
We talk about collisions in rugby. I
mean, we never talked about
collisions when I played. You talked
about getting out of the way of
collisions, not sort of having
collisions. Now, we talk about lots
of hits and collisions, and it has
sort of change the way people think
about the game.
There is now talk of
strike action by the players, in
order to preserve, effectively,
their careers, and maybe even the
health and later life. Is that
something you would support? Is that
something that you might even engage
in, if you were still playing?
think if I was a player I would be
certainly engaging in it, in terms
Would you go on
strike if you were?
Well, you would
certainly question what is being
proposed at the moment, in terms of
the welfare of the individual. It is
a very tough, long season. And this
goes to the heart of the conflict
between the union and the club.
Because the club owners want to
stretch the season out, so that
their players are playing for them
more than they are for the union.
And, if you are a player, you have
only one course of action, which is
actually to say, look, I am not
prepared to go on the field. And
that is one of the biggest
consequences, of course, are in the
Mexia. Brain damage. But there could
one day at the elite level be a
death on the pitch. I mean, I don't
want to be scaremongering about this
but we know that at levels below the
professional game there have been
incidents like that. A 19-year-old
early the this year in New Zealand
died as a result of injuries he
sustained on the pitch. Is that what
it will take for rugby to come to
For goodness's sake, we
will pray and hope that that does
not a occur, and there has always
been an element of risk in rugby,
and sadly I was involved at school
with one of my best mates who has
been a paraplegic for nearly 40
years, who dedicate the book too, a
called Kris McKeon, and Rory and I
were on the school field when he was
injured in a tackle in the late 70s.
And it is always the one thing that
I sort of hate most about the game,
if you like, that...
obviously had a profound affect on
It has, and Chris is still
alive, he is a remarkable human
being, who has not got any malice
towards the game. But, in, he was 15
years when this happened. And... So
injury in rugby is something that is
very close to my heart. And I think
it is a real issue for the game that
cannot be taken too lightly. And
there is a danger, if things
aren't... If something doesn't
happen to turn down this dial,
people will get put off playing
rugby. And I don't want that, I
don't want that at all. What you
already here on touchlines, with
parents, mums in particular, and
just sort of do they really want
their children to be playing rugby?
And those things snowballed. And
what I have seen in sport, very
quickly, over the last sort of
decade, maybe slightly longer, is
the pace of change in modern life,
particularly when it is associated
with sport, can happen like that.
And if you are not careful, you
could be two, three, four, five
years down the line, and there are
bigger issues at play there.
curious thing here, Rob, is that the
players want to play, of course they
want to play, because they love the
game, but also that they are
reckless about the damage to their
bodies, and some even relish the
pain. A quote from one prop, the
pain bonds you as a team. From that
you get a deeper learning of each
other, a deeper trust each other.
How do you react to that?
Yes, and I
understand that. I understand that
from Dan. He was a front row
forward, I understood it when I
played. There was a bond around the
physical nature of the sport. I
think there comes a point when the
administrators of the game have a
much wider responsibility to protect
the players from themselves, and to
protect the long-term interests of
the game, so that in 50 years' time,
the game is still being played, and
is still a sport of choice for young
people. Because it has so many
qualities. But, as I say, there is
an alarm going off here, and I think
people are hearing it, and it is
finding the answer that is always
the damned difficult thing to do.
Let's talk about your thymic
clicking them. You spoke about the
2012 World Cup as a pet. --
Twickenham. What you are talking
about is that you failed to employ
any meaningful programme to ensure
consistency in progress.
That is one
way of interpreting it. Some people
would agree with you, and some
people would say that, but I would
disagree with that, and say...
I would say that when
you look at sporting systems, and
there was not a great deal of system
work back in English rugby in 2006,
which is what I mean by that... In
2003 was that once every ten years
England team. The 2011 and 2015
World Cups were clearly very
difficult. Systems take years to
build. When you talk to UK sport or
any sporting organisation, there is
a timeline to these things. The
proof will be in the pudding over
the next ten years.
So talking about
the World Cup in 2019, if you win
that, you are saying that it would
be to your credit, because you put
No, I am not saying
that. But if you understand sport
systems, you understand how long it
takes to put these things into
place. From 2008, you do need that
time. That is not to say that in
2015 the team should not have done
better, but over the next decade,
given the quality of talent in the
system that is in place in England,
and the depth of talent, then
England should do well, that is my
view. And I said that before the
2015 World Cup and I stick with it.
That doesn't mean to say that things
will not go wrong with team
selection and all the rest of us to
make it. -- or the rest of it.
Somebody wrote about your time at
Twickenham and said it was
disastrous. He pointed to previous
appointments, and of course, you
have a ready referred to 2015, which
was a disaster. If there was a car
crash, then it was Andrew that were
sitting behind the wheel, that was
what was written.
He is gone.
a well-respected writer. He is a
well respected writer.
By some, but
not all. I think he has had an
agenda for most of his career, as
far as I can see.
An anti-Andrew a
Yes, I think so. I think it
is about understanding what people's
roles are. -- agenda. My role at
times at the RFU, and I said this
many times, I made mistakes. And I
think most respected rugby
journalists understand what was
going on. Stephen has his view and
has headed for 30. When I respect
that view or not is up to me.
of the difficulties were obviously
beyond your control, the moment in
2011 Dean, when a tragedy attention
of the Auckland Blues. -- 2011,
-- police. Things happened
under Martin's rain. Players let him
down. There is no question. Senior
players let him down. They have got
to look in the mirror and work out
whether they did or they didn't. I
nor the position was and I think
mine does. And then obviously with
the end of the World Cup, going out
to France in the quarter-final, we
sat around having dinner in
Auckland, and the whole of the
management team - and they are
pretty big management teams now,
with rugby, possibly as many as
players - and that is the modern
way, isn't it? And a phone rang, and
I was sat virtually opposite John,
and you could hear him go, yes, he
is what? He's? And he's been
arrested? Issey OK? And it was sort
of - poor old Tom, and the farmers
were done, and we said what on
earth. And it was Toby Flood who
basically said we are on a ferry on
the way back to Auckland Harbour. --
is he OK. One minute he was there,
the next minute he was in the
Eventually, he was fished
out, was in the? But the fact is
that he has been in trouble here in
the UK, once with the police, and
once with Eddie Jones, the head
coach. Is he a liability? Is he
How many chances to
coaches give players? I think that
is one of the issues.
mentioned three incidents, three and
you are out, is that?
I think is one
of those examples of the modern
game, modern characters, the amount
of money, the level of
responsibility that you would expect
place to take not just in rugby but
other sports as well. We are in the
modern world and the modern media,
and players to need to take more
responsibility, or coaches are
effectively forced to lock people in
And wouldn't that be a
crazy position? Let's talk about
Eddie Jones. You are nearly at the
end of your time at Twickenham when
he was a appointed coach. Could you
take credit for what appears to have
been a successful decision?
the other thing I mentioned. Have
your point President Almazbek
Atambayev you have a recruitment
process with really experienced
And one of those on the
current panel was an Englishman, was
At the time, it was felt
that it was the right thing at the
right time for English rugby. And
again Stephen Jones, get your facts
right, I didn't our point Lancaster,
not that it means much to him, but
it is one of those things where, you
look at the Eddie Jones appointment,
and the decision was taken that we
have two have a coach with
international experience. -- didn't
appoint. They will not be English.
Because you have just sacked one
with international experience. The
decision there which can talk with
the backing of the board, and he and
I spoke about it, was who was
available at the moment. -- Ian. Who
can come in and take a good group of
players, and yes, it has talent
there, but some do with
move you on, because running out of
time. But any information on the
2023 World Cup? In so could be South
Africa. I learned the Irish are
These processes are
very robust in terms of what you
have to go through. Ireland, France,
and South Africa have, I suspect,
put in strong bids. Had they come to
the final decision is down to the
board. Of course Ireland will be
hugely disappointed if they don't
get it. But equally, South Africa
was a wonderful World Cup in 1985.
France was wonderful in 2007. They
would all do great jobs.
question and a brief and said he
will. England for 2019 of the World
Cup, had you read their chances 1-
ten, with sending winners?
It is up
there. The top end of that scale.
There is no cushion about that. This
is already a strong English group of
players. Two years ago. They will
get better. And then it will be down
to in those eight weeks, have they
got their preparation right, and
they got selection right, can they
handled it pressure, which is what
marks out the World Cup winning
teams. 2003 do that. But in only one
we didn't in the World Cup final.
This team is probably the nearest he
would have had in two years time
that will have a real chance when
they go to Japan.
Thank you very a
much indeed. -- Thank you very much
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.