RFU gives support to chief executive John Steele

RFU chief executive John Steele
Steele has been in charge at the RFU since June last year

The Rugby Football Union has backed chief executive John Steele despite the furore surrounding the search a new elite performance director.

Steele has come under pressure after he altered the job description, only to be forced to change it back following an emergency meeting of the RFU board.

Chairman Martyn Thomas said it had been a "testing time" for the RFU.

But he insisted recent events should not overshadow the "positive progress" made under Steele.

Chief executive Steele said it was important that English rugby's governing body "builds on the many positives" that can be taken from a successful season.

"We have a clear plan to take us forward which includes reviewing and learning from what has been a disappointing period for our sport," he added.

"After a successful season, we must now ensure that [England manager] Martin Johnson and his team have all the support they need for what promises to be an exciting Rugby World Cup in September and October."

The process of finding a new elite performance director has become a drawn-out affair and led to questions about Steele's future at the organisation.

The job is the final role to be filled in the RFU's management restructure, with Rob Andrew already named as the new director of rugby operations and Steve Grainger appointed development director.

The original job description for the elite performance role included a reference to responsibility for all representative teams, up to and including Johnson's senior team.

But Steele wanted to water down the role, a decision that was seen as a move to block the involvement of England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward, currently director of sport at the British Olympic Association.

However, on 13 May, an emergency meeting of the RFU board instructed Steele to reverse the decision, leaving Woodward as favourite to take the job.

And last week, the saga took another twist when Woodward issued a statement ruling out a return to the RFU.

The drawn-out process led to criticism of Steele and the RFU with former England coach Dick Best saying: "They've taken the biscuit this time, made so many U-turns it's embarrassing."

And former Lions prop Fran Cotton even called for Steele to be sacked.

But after a meeting on Wednesday, the RFU board said they "were resolved to move forward and continue the progress made under John Steele".

The RFU statement also stated that the board "reiterated its full support for the organisational restructure undertaken".

In addition, the RFU has asked chairman of governance Peter Baines to review the performance director appointment process, including "dealing with the issues of governance and confidentiality".

Thomas said: "This has been a testing time for the RFU but the key to a strong organisation is how it responds in difficult times.

"The board is united in its desire to draw a line under the events of the past weeks, learn the lessons and emerge stronger as a result. The review by Peter Baines will help us do that.

"It is also important that recent events do not obscure the very positive progress we have taken under John Steele's leadership over the last nine months.

"Our task now is to continue to support him in creating the new organisational structure that we need to deliver success on and off the field in the lead up to 2015."