Probe into England RWC exit on the rocks

2015-10-07 12:25
Stuart Lancaster (Gallo)

London - English rugby's search for meaningful answers following the team's Rugby World Cup group-stage exit may never get off the ground as reports emerge that players are reluctant to cooperate against an increasingly febrile backdrop of recriminations.

Anger and disappointment remain palpable in England following the hosts' humiliating 33-13 loss to Australia at Twickenham.

That defeat condemned them to a first group-stage exit, prompting calls for a review into the debacle and for coach Stuart Lancaster to be replaced.

Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Ian Ritchie will lead the probe.

"It (the review) needs to be comprehensive and we need to look at what we need to do to do better," Ritchie said.

"I think it is right to have an insight (from the players). We've always done that and we shall continue to do that, and we'll do it on a confidential basis. It's right to get a review on a 360-degree basis."

Among the issues expected to be examined are: the elevation of rugby league convert Sam Burgess into the squad at the expense of Luther Burrell; the balance of power between Lancaster and his assistant coaches; and the clampdown on players' commercial opportunities versus national team sponsorship obligations.

A similar process following England's 2011 quarter-final defeat in New Zealand pointed the finger at a number of senior players, and called their commitment into question.

That report was leaked to the British media, creating a legacy of mistrust and resentment which endures to this day.

British media on Wednesday said players were wary of providing even anonymous feedback this time.

Both the Times and Telegraph reported players felt betrayed four years ago, and that some members of Lancaster's squad could decline to participate.

"There is likely to be some critical feedback," the Telegraph quoted one source close to the squad as saying. "I am not sure many of them will trust that it will be an anonymous survey.

"So I think they will be guarded in what they say, or just not take part."

The Rugby Players' Association is monitoring the situation and is said to be waiting on the review's format before commenting.

Lancaster says he has nothing to hide and called on the RFU to be transparent with its findings.

Asked if he would be happy for the review to be published, Lancaster said: "I wouldn't have a problem with any of it.

"It would be good if the review was allowed to be done properly, privately, professionally and speedily, then whatever happens, happens," he added.

The coach also said he would "wait and see how I feel and how the RFU feel in the next couple of weeks", when asked about his future.

Observers, pundits, fellow coaches and former players are split over what action the RFU should take, with some saying Lancaster should be allowed to build on the work he has done rejuvenating the image of English rugby. Others feel he has had limitations exposed at the highest level.

Lancaster was awarded a new six-year contract last year to see him through the next World Cup in Japan in 2019.

That deal was a concrete sign of confidence in the coach, although the RFU did not likely foresee England becoming the first World Cup hosts to fail to reach the knockout stages of their own tournament.

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