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'I can't see how Bill Sweeney's position is tenable' - Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
(Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

The RFU have apologised after the bungled announcement on lowering the tackle height across the community game but I can’t see how the position of Bill Sweeney is still tenable. The buck clearly has to stop with him as CEO but it isn’t just that he has overseen a mistake and a catastrophically bad bit of communication and PR to accompany it, he has evidently lost the faith of too many of the people he is supposed to represent.


There are around 2,000 rugby clubs across England and well over a tenth have already supported the newly-formed Community Clubs Union (CCU), with the backing of only 100 members needed to force a special general meeting (SGM). I suspect more will follow suit and the man at the top should carry the can, despite the volte-face that finally arrived eight days after the initial decision was made public.

Sweeney was accused of being “asleep on the job” by a select committee for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) recently after Worcester and Wasps went into administration and the RFU has lurched from one disaster to another in recent years.

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Add to that the fact that one of Sweeney’s first jobs after joining the RFU in 2019 was supposed to be finding a successor to Eddie Jones, only for him to stick with the Australian and then get rid of him last month. Steve Borthwick was finally appointed as his successor but if there had been better succession planning, it might not have cost the RFU so much money to get their man and his right-hand man, who were both very much still under contract at Leicester.

So, this latest incident isn’t an isolated one but it is one that affects 99 per cent of the rugby-playing population in England – as the RFU’s climbdown statement itself points out – and that is the most important point. Regardless of what happens from here in terms of the ‘forums’ the RFU say they are going to hold and the discussion about defining “how we describe a lower tackle height”, I don’t think Sweeney can regain the confidence of clubs and players up and down the country.


I have been at a couple more local rugby clubs this week and the message from them was clear as it has been from everyone in the game I have spoken to about this. They weren’t consulted and are shocked and angered by the manner in which it has all been handled. The decision is one thing and it is too radical, even if they have rowed back a bit in their latest statement. But it is the way they have gone about things that have just shown disdain for the clubs that are the lifeblood of the game.


World Rugby may be planning on reducing the tackle height across the board but it can’t be to the waist and it has to be done in consultation with everyone who has a vested interest, backed up with evidence that is published for all to see and communicated properly. The fact the Sweeney-led RFU thought they could just impose this without discussion was a grave error.

There are understandable concerns from those playing the game that a lowering of the tackle height will result in more concussions from contact with knees, as opposed to head-on-head contact, and there needs to be a conversation about that as well as data. It also appears to many that this is a reaction to what we are seeing every week on television in the professional game when the experience at grassroots level is very different, so accurate figures are needed to demonstrate that too.

We have seen two Premiership clubs go bust this season and we are in danger of witnessing the grassroots game go to rack and ruin as well with the sport looking poorly run to anyone looking from the outside in. Even the apology reads like the RFU is sorry that clubs haven’t agreed with them. They are sorry that it caused “anger and concern” and that they “got the engagement wrong”, but it could have gone much further.

How 62 RFU council members voted unanimously for the move without anyone appearing to be consulted remains a mystery to everyone and the whole setup seems like a complete circus at the moment. I’m not sure who those council members are or how they got to be in such a position, but the clubs are dumbfounded that this could happen and greater transparency and a reform of the system are sorely needed.


It feels like the game is on a precipice and the people running the show are out of touch with reality and have no recent experience playing the sport. Sweeney has presided over a couple of disastrous Guinness Six Nations campaigns for England and a dreadful period financially, clearly not all of which is his fault, but this latest RFU mess was completely avoidable and he has to be held accountable for it.

He has spoken recently about integrity and the need to reconnect with fans and we have seen the exact opposite over the course of the past week or so. Actions speak louder than words and it remains to be seen what happens with regard to a special general meeting and a potential no-confidence vote, but I can’t see any way that trust can be rebuilt. If that is the case, his position will be untenable.


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