England 'obsessed with cash'

2011-11-23 15:48

London - Money was more on some England players' minds than the matches in a Rugby World Cup campaign that began to rot before the team left for New Zealand.

Documents compiled by England's Rugby Football Union, Rugby Players' Association and the Premiership clubs and leaked to The Times of London, which published them on Wednesday, showed a squad riven by infighting, concerned more about money than ambition, lacking confidence in the coaching staff and disillusioned by poor training.

The documents were never supposed to be published, and the Professional Game Board, which runs elite rugby in England, said it was "disappointing and frustrating." The PGB will make recommendations to improve future England teams based on the reports to the RFU board next Wednesday.

England fell to France in the quarter-finals, their worst World Cup result since 1999, amid controversies throughout the tournament.

Captain Lewis Moody was criticised by RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew for leading a revolt over pay in summer training camp.

"It was very disappointing that a senior player group, led by the captain Lewis Moody, disputed the level of payment for the World Cup squad," Andrew wrote. "It led to meetings with RFU executives in the last few weeks before departure for NZ. This led to a further unsettling of the squad.

"Some of the senior players were more focused on money than getting the rugby right."

The players even threatened not to attend the send-off dinner at Twickenham when they refused to leave the team bus unless their demands were met.

In another incident after the loss to France, a junior squad member was disgusted to hear a senior team-mate say in the changing room, "There's £35 000 just gone down the toilet."

Andrew and RPA chief executive Damian Hopley said the lack of internal discipline split the squad. Andrew said it began in the summer camp when "a small but very influential group of players" weren't sanctioned for poor behaviour, which worsened in New Zealand. The most infamous example was backup skipper Mike Tindall, only weeks after marrying Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter, being caught in a compromising situation with another woman in Queenstown on a boozy night out partly paid for by the RFU.

Later, Chris Ashton, James Haskell and Dylan Hartley were picked out for allegedly harassing a female Dunedin hotel worker.

Manager Martin Johnson was criticised by some players for not doing what he promised and penalising players for indiscretions.

"He was too loyal, and that was his downfall," one told the RPA anonymously.

Younger members were fed up with the antics of some seniors, who also belittled them for training harder. Players picked on reputation rather than form also annoyed many.

"There was a culture where it was not cool to train hard," one said.

The RPA recommended all players being accountable for their actions without exception, rules being enforced from the top down, a clear policy on alcohol, and curfews if necessary.

Moody's lack of leadership, especially on the ill-discipline, was also condemned by his team-mates. He's since retired from England duty.

The players were also critical of the training, saying it was mentally draining and lacked focus on fitness and speed. While most wanted Johnson retained - he stepped down last week - they said he was let down by his staff, who were out of date and substandard when it came to practices and game-plans.

Attack coach Brian Smith, defence coach Mike Ford, forwards coach John Wells and kicking coach Dave Alred were slammed, while scrum coach Graham Rowntree was the only one praised. One player said halves Ben Youngs and Toby Flood took over some coaching.

"To go into World Cup games not having a game-plan, any structure or clear idea of what we were going to do in attack was astonishing," one said.

Another added: "I can't really believe we lasted as long as we did in the tournament. We played like crap."