A New Order at Twickenham
7 January 2011
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John Steele announced the first part of his reorganisation at the RFU this week with five executives leaving their jobs. There will be more changes over the coming weeks and months, all designed to get England to the top of the Rugby tree and make the game the best possible for all those involved.
I’ve met John a few times now and he has never failed to impress me on each occasion. In September he met Council members at a social occasion arranged for the purpose and although he only said a few words his commitment to the game was obvious. The fact that he gave up his job as CEO of UK Sport with the London 2012 Olympics just a couple of years away speaks volumes. I managed to have a few minutes with him that evening to introduce myself, primarily because he had said that he started playing mini rugby at Cambridge before moving to Shelford RFC where he first played adult rugby. His affection for both clubs came across very clearly.
It was only a few days later that we met again when he sat in on a RugbyFirst Project Board meeting. He seemed genuinely pleased to see a familiar face amongst a dozen or so strangers and although he said little during the meeting itself he took a lot of notes. The chairman of the Project Board was one of those to lose his job this week.
He committed himself to visiting all the counties and Eastern Counties was one of the first he went to. When we thought about where we should hold the “John Steele Roadshow” one of his junior clubs seemed the obvious choice, and as Cambridge’s clubhouse wasn’t available we invited him to Shelford. After presenting the club with one of his England A shirts he, along with RFU Chairman Martyn Thomas, spent a couple of hours answering questions from clubs. He came across well and everyone came away with a good impression of him.
There have been comparisons with his predecessor Francis Baron and there were concerns about his perceived lack of commercial acumen. There is no doubt that Francis was the right man for his time. He turned the finances of the RFU around, was in charge when England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and the legacy of the South Stand complex is there for everyone to see. New, long-term income streams have been generated through the Twickenham Marriott, Virgin Active, Twickenham Experience Ltd, England Rugby Travel and others. However, now is the time to put Rugby at the top of the agenda and that is what John Steele has done.
England hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and we must be ready to make the most of the opportunity. Winning will do more for the game than anything else and we have the best man to put everything in place for England to be World Champions again.