RFU rebels determined to force change at top during Rugby World Cup

Underfire: Bill Sweeney  (Getty Images)
Underfire: Bill Sweeney (Getty Images)

The RFU council members who have sparked a civil war felt a leadership challenge could not wait until after the World Cup.

Almost half of the governing body's council members signed a letter directly challenging chief executive Bill Sweeney and chairman Tom Ilube's leadership. Both now find themselves embroiled in a battle to safeguard their futures — and all while they should be focused on England's campaign.

Ilube has branded the letter and its timing "deeply disappointing", but the rebels are understood to have felt there could be no delays in raising their concerns. The letter amounts to a no-confidence call in Sweeney and Ilube, but the two top bosses are expected to continue to try to weather the storm.

Mixed views on the RFU's leadership and direction are held across the remainder of the council, however, and Sweeney and Ilube will look to seize upon that to stabilise their positions.

The letter, sent on September 11 to RFU president Rob Briers, reads: "If the present situation is allowed to persist, there is significant risk to the future of the Union, the way it operates and its ability to invest in, sustain and grow the community, semi-professional and professional games. As such, failure to act will further call into question the confidence we have in the senior leadership of the RFU.

"Whilst the impact of Covid cannot be understated, nor the potential impact of the current challenging economic climate, recent forecasts show that the RFU [are] likely to make a substantial loss in every year bar one over the next nine years equating to £161million. This represents an existential threat to our game. Few private, public or third-party organisations would survive such continuing levels of loss, and their boards would also be held to account. The RFU board appears to be breaching one of the key objects of the Union."

Chairman Ilube responded with a statement to reveal his upset with both the timing of the letter and calls for those concerns to be debated at an emergency meeting ahead of the next RFU council meeting. "The proposed council resolution is deeply disappointing," he said. "It was emailed on the eve of the World Cup when the game should be focused on supporting the England team."