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Nigel Melville's exit sees the RFU tweak job title and appoint Conor O'Shea

Former Italy coach Conor O'Shea is joining the RFU (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Conor O’Shea is joining the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in 2020 as director of performance. O’Shea will be responsible for the leadership, management and strategic direction of the professional game in England.


With the aim to support long-term sustainable success at international level, the 49-year-old will manage the England player, coaching and match officials pathways across men’s and women’s 15s and sevens programmes.

The role, reporting to CEO Bill Sweeney, will also oversee performance rugby operations which include the management around the professional game agreement, Greene King IPA Championship, Tyrrells Premier 15s, Rugby Players Association, medical governance and player welfare, sports science, anti-doping and competition frameworks.

He will work closely with England men’s head coach Eddie Jones, but the England team remains the responsibility of Jones who will continue to report directly to Sweeney.

O’Shea resigned this month as head coach of the Italy men’s team having coached the national side since 2016. The former Ireland international was previously director of rugby at Harlequins, the 2012 Premiership champions.

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He previously worked at the RFU as director of regional academies between 2005 and 2008 before joining the English Institute of Sport as national director for two years where he strategically influenced the sports science and medicine service offerings to Olympic and non-Olympic sports.

O’Shea said: “I’m privileged and honoured and it’s an incredible opportunity to join at a really exciting time for English rugby.


I’ve spent the last four years in Italy, six years at Harlequins and before that 10 years at London Irish, so I feel I know the system pretty well. The good times, the bad times, winning things and being competitive, so I can relate to the people and challenges that happen within our system. I have learned a huge amount internationally in the last few years as well.

“There is an exciting vision at the RFU. It is not just about winning tomorrow, but also about sustaining success and winning long into the future. We can really look forward to rejuvenating and re-energising the performance pathway to help, support and push England rugby on. As well as our relationships with all stakeholders, it’s about women’s rugby, sevens, referees and coach development, which is absolutely fundamental.

“There has been some fantastic work done over a long period of time in these areas and there have been some challenges for various reasons as well. Now hopefully there is an opportunity to have stability, with the ability to invest and really push forward and challenge ourselves to become better. We are here to provide a sustainable winning environment and I hope I can play my part in creating that.”

Sweeney said: “Conor comes here with existing knowledge of how we operate. He has a good rounded balance of what it takes to be part of a high-performance system and he understands the world of the Premiership and the Six Nations so all of those are important credentials for us. His principle focus will be rebuilding the performance pathway and the coach development side.



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“It is a wide-ranging role. We have our role to play in Team GB and the Olympics in Tokyo and the women’s game continues to go from strength-to-strength. He is responsible for making sure we continue that growth and we have a really good strategy in place for how we will compete in the women’s game at the highest level.

“Conor knows Eddie Jones very well and will be able to integrate with what is happening at the highest level on the elite side of our game and making sure we have a seamless approach to player and coach development will be key. He will also work closely with Premiership Rugby and the clubs to make sure we have the right relationships with them.

“There is a lot happening. We are just coming off a very successful Rugby World Cup, the youngest-ever team to compete in a World Cup final so it bodes really well for us going forward. We are looking forward to the Guinness Six Nations coming up now but that is part of a longer journey through to France in 2023. We look at that and the experience of Japan and that is something we can really build on.”

O’Shea’s arrival coincides with the departure of professional rugby director Nigel Melville, who wishes to pursue new opportunities.

Since joining in July 2016, Melville has led the professional rugby department and played a pivotal role in the development of the partnership with Premier Rugby and development of the England men’s and women’s sevens and fifteens teams. In addition, he acted as interim CEO in the first half of 2019 ahead of the arrival of Sweeney as CEO.

“I’m proud of all that the organisation has achieved over the last three years during some challenging times,” said Melville. “I believe that England Rugby is in a great place and that leaving after the 2019 World Cup is the right time as the RFU start a new era and prepare for the next World Cup cycle.”

WATCH: Dylan Hartley has revealed what it was like to captain England under Eddie Jones

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Jon 1 hours ago
Sam Cane was unfairly cast in Richie McCaw's shadow for too long

> McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth. It’s easy to forget McCaw was just as heavily critiqued for the last two years of his career. The only real difference was his captaining criticisms and his playing criticisms happened at different times, where Cane was criticized for a few things in both areas for all of his last 4 years. This was also heavily influenced by another McCaw esque presence, in Ardie Savea, being in the team and pushed out of his original position. It could be said we essentially didn’t have the 3 prior years with Ardie as world player of the year because he was changing into this new role. I say “original” position as despite him never coming out and saying his desire is to perform his role from, that I know of, clearly as part of a partnership with Cane as 7, I don’t think this was because he really wanted Cane’s playing spot. I think it most likely that it comes down to poor All Black management that those sort of debates weren’t put to bed as being needless and irrelevant. It has been brought up many times in past few months of discussions on articles here at RP, that early calls in WC cycles, to say pigeonhole an All Black team into being required to have a physical dynamo on defence at 7 (and ballplyaer at 8 etc) are detrimental. In the end we did not even come up against a team that threw large bodies at us relentlessly, like why we encountered in the 2019 WC semi final, at all in this last WC. Even then they couldn’t see the real weakness was defending against dynamic attacks (which we didn’t want to/couldn’t give 2019 England credit for) like the Twickenham Boks, and Irish and French sides (even 10 minutes of an English onslaught) that plagued our record and aura the last 4 years. It really is a folly that is the All Blacks own creation, and I think it pure luck, and that Cane was also such a quality All Black, that he was also became an integral part of stopping the side from getting run off the park. Not just rampaged. > The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings. I bet this author was one of those criticizing Cane for coming out and speaking his mind in defence of his team that year. Despite the apparent hypocrisy I agree with the sentiment, but I can only see our last captain as going down the same road his two prior captains, Read and McCaw, have gone. I am really for Cane becoming an extra member to each squad this year, June, RC, and November tours, and he is really someone I can see being able to come back into the role after 3 seasons in Japan. As we saw last year, we would have killed for someone of his quality to have been available rather than calling on someone like Blackadder. Just like the Boks did for 2023.

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