English club rugby had been one of the major forces in the European scene over the last few years with clubs from the country vying for the title in two of Europe’s elite club competitions, but not any more.
With the defeat of the Saracens FC at the hands of Clermont over the weekend, England, for the first time, has been left without a representative I either of the two top European club competitions.
After all the three clubs that were representing England in the Amlin Cup, the rugby equivalent of the UEFA Europa League in football crashed out, it was up to the Saracens to carry the flag of the country in the Heineken Cup.
But it seems that the burden of expectations proved to be too much for the champions of the Aviva Premiership and crumbled under the pressure, surrendering meekly to the French opponents on home soil. The match was all but over inside the first hour of play and this has prompted widespread criticism from all sections of the fans and some of the officials as well.
According to the officials, English rugby will not be able to compete with the European heavyweights if the salary cap is not increased. According to Mark McCall, the Director of Rugby of the Saracens, the salary cap in England is exactly half as that in France and this allows the French to get the best players in the world by breaking the bank and unless the English teams are also allowed such benefits, they will not be able to compete as a force in Europe anymore.
McCall also stated that although they felt that they were ready for the challenge of Clermont, they actually weren’t and that was proved by the mauling suffered at the hands of the French side.
It is widely thought that there are only two candidates for the vacant England manager/head coach vacancy. It is generally thought that the next man to take to role on a full time basis will be either Stuart Lancaster or Nick Mallett.
Ian Ritchie, the RFU’s new Chief Executive has though revealed that there are two others in consideration for the job.
One of these further two is expected to be Sir Clive Woodward. It is easy to see why, he took England to new heights, winning the World Cup and Grand Slam in 2003 and building the team that would go on to reach a second consecutive final in 2007. His current role with the BOA is set to end after this year’s Olympics and this could be a chance for a return to the game that made him what he is.
The mention of Woodward’s name alone will be enough to destabilise the RFU and the thought of how split the organisation would become if he were to return is a major factor in the argument against his return. There is talk of Woodward returning in a management role to work alongside Lancaster as head coach. This again though seems unlikely though. With Lancaster having drawn up his plans for the next three years should he be appointed, and those plans do not include a place for a high profile manager such as Woodward.
The Mallett v Lancaster debate is also polarising opinions within the RFU and the game as a while. The two main arguments being that experience is necessary, which did not seem to be an issue in the appointment of Martin Johnson, this would if seen as relevant count in favour of Nick Mallet. Whereas the argument that the job should be filled by an Englishman, counting in favour of Lancaster, the current favourite according to the latest rugby odds.
Both of these arguments are in reality though irrelevant. Whichever man, whichever setup the RFU go for will have to be based solely on who is the right man for the job. Whether this be Lancaster, Mallett or even Woodward then so be it. Whoever it is will need to full unified backing of the RFU and the English nation.