RFU must shoulder blame for England’s shameful decline

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

England's darkest Twickenham day was the product of 20 years of decline.

Saturday's first-ever defeat to Fiji was the afternoon when two generations of off-field complacency, mismanagement and arrogance came home to roost.

Courtney Lawes' 100th cap should have been so different; a day to savour 14 years of Test graft.

The suits in the executive offices have let this sport down gravely.

The fact that England's lowest-ever ranked Test team could genuinely still reach the Rugby World Cup semi-finals is precisely the problem.

A run to the last four in France for the side now ranked eighth in the world — from the competition's easiest pool and on an unfeasibly weak half of the draw — would cover over a multitude of RFU sins.

England's administration has regressed to a pitiable state; devoid of rugby leadership.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has not put his head over the parapet since Steve Borthwick’s appointment last year (Getty Images)
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has not put his head over the parapet since Steve Borthwick’s appointment last year (Getty Images)

The RFU coffers were swelled by Friday's money-spinning sell-out match between South Africa and New Zealand, leaving only 56,000 to turn out for England v Fiji the next day. But who cares, when cash is king at Twickenham.

Simon Raiwalui has built a Fiji team of ingenuity, wit, power, incision and humility — and all on a relative shoestring budget. Twickenham should have been packed to the rafters to marvel at a team mixing magic and methodology to stun England 30-22.

The RFU dubbed the search for Eddie Jones's successor as England head coach Project Everest. The initiative clearly caught frostbite.

Some 67 coaches were interviewed in fact finding en route to the RFU choosing Steve Borthwick.

What a colossal waste of time and money. Scour the globe to settle on the most obvious candidate.

The repercussions of sacking Stuart Lancaster after the 2015 World Cup are still hurting England now.

Experienced, older, ruthless, Jones was everything Lancaster was not. And yet, the Australian was entirely wrong for England, despite the successes.

The English game cried out for talented, positive coaches to maximise the next generation's potential, especially in the youth set-up. Lateral thinking age-group coaches were jettisoned, however, as prey to a power grab of insecure operators attempting to insulate their positions.

Protectionist, safety-first thinking has crippled the RFU. No wonder Borthwick's coaching appears so risk averse.

The former England captain has a contract until after the 2027 World Cup, but he will know that RFU short-termism will usher him through the Twickenham fire exit upon a below-par showing in France.

England battled chaos and confusion at Twickenham against Fiji. Lose to Argentina in their Rugby World Cup opener on Saturday week and Borthwick and Co will be stuck in a nightmare trip of Fear and Loathing in Marseille.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has not put his head over the parapet since trumpeting Borthwick's appointment in December.

Sweeney insisted it would be "a great day" if England meet Jones's Australia in the World Cup quarter-finals, but surely only for fans of schadenfreude.

After generations of Empire-based discrimination, Fiji's admission to Super Rugby with the Drua franchise finally allows the Pacific Islanders to stem a talent drain to New Zealand, Australia and beyond.

Routes into the England team, in stark contrast, have receded, with combined rugby and college courses scaled back.

The English game is all the poorer, less inventive and, frankly, softer for not championing talent from underprivileged or under-represented communities.

England have always boasted rugby's richest union, but generational wealth and inherited privilege are rotting the game.