RFU quells rebellion over financial dealings and Jersey demise

Jersey Reds players are applauded by Bath Rugby players following the Premiership Rugby Cup game between Bath Rugby and Jersey Reds
Jersey Reds had hoped to press for a place in the top flight of English rugby - Getty Images/Malcolm Couzens

The Rugby Football Union’s board held off a groundswell of unrest from rebel sections of its council on Friday, Telegraph Sport understands.

A meeting at Twickenham had been billed as a potentially explosive one given that multiple members of the RFU council had bandied together over the past fortnight and called for an investigation into the financial dealings of the governing body. Tensions had also heightened following the demise of Jersey Reds the previous day.

The proposed review was withdrawn, however. It is thought that a measured address from Tom Ilube, the RFU chairman, and a convincing presentation from Sue Day, the organisation’s chief operations officer and chief financial officer, impressed those in attendance. Information presented by Day was said to have been shown to council members at previous meetings.

Meanwhile, a motion for Jeff Blackett to chair a review into the body’s governance was thrown out.

“As a result of constructive and collaborative debate a proposed resolution on a governance and operation review was withdrawn by those who put it forward,” said Rob Briers, the RFU president.

“It is the council, the board and the executive team’s intention to work collaboratively on questions some council members have raised and on the transformational opportunities we have to act in the best interests of the community and professional game for decades to come.

“We have a strong cash position and no debt. We also have a strong P&L reserve position due to the Six Nations transaction with CVC in 2021 that brought in £90 million profits. That said, like all organisations we are facing financial challenges. This is due to the impact of the pandemic and the current economic climate.

“Projected possible losses were previously provided to council as an illustration to underline the need to take mitigating actions, at no point was this a proposed plan or budget.”

There was also a key victory for the RFU board regarding the proposed governance review of the governing body. A resolution had been proposed that Blackett, the RFU’s former president and long-standing disciplinary officer, should chair a governance review after the council previously voted for it to be conducted in-house.

The RFU nominations committee had initially supported Blackett’s candidacy in a head-to-head with Paul Murphy, another former RFU president, but it culminated in split vote (3-3), leading to the deadlock.

Blackett had already published a paper regarding governance review of the union, which is thought to have been held against him at Friday’s meeting and council voted instead to re advertise for the position of chair.

While the structuring and funding of English rugby union’s second tier are yet to be resolved, it is thought that the council were also told by the RFU’s financial viability group on Friday that Jersey had demonstrated no financial red flags over the summer. The governing body insists that it learned about Jersey’s collapse as the players and staff did, at 7.30am on Thursday.

“Up until 07:30 yesterday when we first heard, that was the first anyone heard,” said Conor O’Shea. The RFU’s performance director, in an interview with BBC Jersey. That includes any of the financial documentation that was inputted into the club viability group and the financial oversight group.

“Accounts were put in in June, up until then everything was fine. We had absolutely no idea, as did players or staff. In talking to guys over there they were talking about further investment into pitches and facilities, this has come as a surprise to everyone.”

Jersey, last season’s Championship winners, could still resume their season if they find sufficient funding.