Rugby

Bill Sweeney believes English rugby is ‘on cusp of something quite spectacular’

Bill Sweeney sees a bright future for English rugby (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Bill Sweeney sees a bright future for English rugby (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) Bill Sweeney sees a bright future for English rugby (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Bill Sweeney is confident he remains the right man to lead the Rugby Football Union despite the English game being mired in crisis and claims that “we are on the cusp of something quite spectacular”.

Four professional clubs have collapsed in just over a year – Wasps, Worcester, London Irish and Jersey Reds – while in January the Rugby Football Union triggered a grassroots revolt through its handling of the tackle height being lowered at community level.

On the eve of England’s victory over Argentina that opened the World Cup last month, RFU council members sent a letter to the board raising concerns over the leadership of chief executive Sweeney and chair Tom Ilube.

Sweeney stated that the “cynical” rebellion had been faced down at Friday’s council meeting, adding that it was staged by a “small group of people who are no longer in the game or have agendas that are not necessarily in the best interests of the game”.

Wasps are just one of the clubs to have entered administration in recent months
Wasps are just one of the clubs to have entered administration in recent months Wasps are just one of the clubs to have collapsed in recent months (David Davies/PA)

At the elite level England have not finished above third place in the the Six Nations since 2020 and sacked Eddie Jones in December, giving his replacement Steve Borthwick just eight months to prepare for the World Cup.

“It’s probably for others to say if they don’t feel I am the right person to do it,” Sweeney said.

“I personally feel I am given my experience, given my background and my balance of business and sport. I feel I am the right person to do that.

“I came into this role for one simple reason and it’s because I’m very passionate about this game.

“There’s probably a large number of my friends and family who would be quite happy if I didn’t do it any longer. But I do believe that we are on the cusp of something quite spectacular here.

“This has been a unique moment in time because of the financial challenges, because of the working relationship with Premiership Rugby, our ability to change that relationship around the partnership, to fix the things that have stopped us winning Six Nations on a regular basis.

“The work that we’re doing in World Rugby around Nations Cup, the global calendar – that all plays into this as well.

“I feel that I have the energy, I’ve got the passion and I’ve got the desire to see this through. Now if somebody else thinks differently about that, that’s also equally fine.

The RFU sacked Eddie Jones and appointed Steve Borthwick (pictured) just eight months before the World Cup
The RFU sacked Eddie Jones and appointed Steve Borthwick (pictured) just eight months before the World Cup The RFU sacked Eddie Jones and appointed Steve Borthwick (pictured) just eight months before the World Cup (David Davies/PA)

“You don’t wake up every morning enjoying it, but that’s the reason why I would like to carry on.”

Sweeney was accused by a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing last November of being “completely asleep on the job” and told that he should consider resigning in response to the financial crisis that led to Wasps and Worcester entering administration.

The Twickenham chief has promised structural reform “to fix a number of issues that have been broken for some time”, thereby ending the “boom and bust periods when it is more based on hope”.

Sweeney confirmed that negotiations are proceeding for 25 England players to be placed on ‘hybrid contracts’ that would give Borthwick more control of his most important internationals.