Moment of truth for Ashton as Andrew presents review to RFU

ENGLAND head coach Brian Ashton will discover his fate today when Rob Andrew presents his RBS Six Nations review to the Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) management board.

Ashton’s position has been the subject of intense speculation as critics question his ability to lead England, despite their second-place finish in the championship.

His future has been complicated by reports that Andrew, the RFU’s director of elite rugby, has been engaged in talks with Martin Johnson over the creation of an all-powerful managerial role.

The appointment of England’s World Cup-winning captain, 39, would receive universal approval; yet his lack of experience in the position counts against him.

Johnson’s presence would also impinge on Ashton’s duties, because the two-time Lions captain would demand an input in or control of selection and tactics and spurn the offer of a figurehead role.

Since Ashton’s elevation to head coach in December 2006, he has requested the aid of a manager but has also made it clear the man chosen should operate in the background and not be involved in the decision-making process.

The 61-year-old even stated he would not want a personality such as Johnson involved, so any such move would force him to reconsider his position – even if Andrew wanted to keep him onboard.

The make-up of the coaching team is also an area of concern, which is sure to be highlighted today when the management board convene to discuss Andrew’s report.

Assistants John Wells and Mike Ford were in place when Ashton succeeded Andy Robinson and talk of disunity among the trio persists.

Lurking on the periphery and offering another possible avenue to Andrew is Jake White, South Africa’s World Cup-winning coach who is available and has repeatedly expressed his interest in the England job.

Austin Healey – another former player with no tracksuit experience – has also been mentioned as a possible addition, although his primary function as a backs coach would clash with Ashton’s field of expertise.

Suggestions that Shaun Edwards might be approached seem born more out of hope than reality, because the Wasps head coach appears committed to Warren Gatland and Wales.

A further sub-text to today’s discussions is Andrew’s own position.

It was Twickenham’s rugby supremo who initially appointed Ashton and then backed him again with a one-year rolling contract, after England had reached the World Cup final.

Were Andrew to dispense with or demote Ashton at this stage, it would inevitably reflect on his own judgement.

Meanwhile former England prop and RFU committee member Jeff Probyn, who won 37 caps between 1988 and 1993, has questioned Johnson’s suitability for the role and the subsequent impact his appointment would have.

“Rob needs his head examined if he recommends bringing Martin Johnson in,” he said. “He’s a character and was a good captain, but a good captain of a side that had five or six captains in it.

“He has no experience of management or administration, even at club level. It would be the same as putting Lawrence Dallaglio or Will Carling in that position.

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