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The dinner in Germany where Steve Hansen got stuck into England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

RFU chief Bill Sweeney is hoping England can regain their consistency in the Six Nations and go to win the World Cup so that he can eventually have the last laugh on Steve Hansen, the ex-All Blacks coach whose withering critique of the English set-up at a long-ago dinner in Germany has never been forgotten by the English rugby CEO. 

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Hansen led the All Blacks to World Cup glory in 2015 but it was while he was an assistant to Graham Henry, the 2011 RWC winner, that his path crossed in Europe with Sweeney in a manner that hasn’t been forgotten. 

Before he joined the RFU as its CEO in May 2019 following a six-year stint with British Olympics, Sweeney earned his living in the commercial world and it was during his time at Adidas that he encountered Hansen and an entourage of All Blacks. 

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England’s Lewis Ludlam guests on RugbyPass Offload
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England’s Lewis Ludlam guests on RugbyPass Offload

What was said about English rugby at a dinner at that time has since stayed on the mind of Sweeney as he seeks to lead the RFU to unprecedented levels of consistency with its national team which is currently headed up by head coach Eddie Jones and backed by the appointed on Sweeney’s watch of Conor O’Shea as the high-performance boss.  

Sweeney recently recalled the damning Hansen assessment of English rugby in an in-depth interview in the Rugby Journal magazine and he concluded that he hopes to someday have a very satisfying last say on the matter. 

“Whenever the All Blacks were playing in the northern hemisphere, they would send eight or nine players across to Nuremberg and they would be there for a week and they do product testing and marketing appearances,” explained Sweeney about his business tie-in with the New Zealanders. 

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“I would always deal with them and their favourite restaurant was a Japanese restaurant in the centre of town and I was there one night with the likes of Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Steve Hansen. At one point Steve stood up, raised his glass and made a toast, saying, ‘You are the only Englishman in here and you won the World Cup in 2003, so fantastic, well done, but you will never win one again’.

“He basically said we didn’t have the systems in place for sustained success, we’re just not set up to continually win. We had a great set of players in 2003, but that’s it, we’ll never win again. And that’s what really stuck with me. 

“I’d love to leave behind the best world-class, high-performance system in the world, one where we have always got a strong chance of winning a Grand Slam and we are always going to be in the last four at the World Cup. And then I can shove it up Steve Hansen’s… nose one day.”

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