John Steele had to go, says RFU chairman Martyn Thomas

Fresh information about John Steele's leadership of the RFU led to a unanimous vote of no confidence in the chief executive, it has been revealed.

Steele's departure as head of English rugby union's governing body on Friday was blamed on a botched search for a new elite performance director.

But RFU chairman Martyn Thomas said: "The board members took soundings.

"We got a lot of detail we didn't previously have [and] that is why we reached the decision [on Steele]."

Steele's downfall was sparked by his handling of the recruitment process to hire a new elite performance supremo.

Once he had created the role as part of his management restructure at Twickenham, there were calls for it to be filled by 2003 World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward.

But Steele removed overall responsibility for the senior England team from the job description, seemingly to block a return by Woodward.

But that decision was reversed following an emergency meeting of the RFU board, undermining Steele's permission.

Thomas said: "The performance director obviously proved a problem. There were issues in terms of candidates coming in. There were procedures the board felt were not right.

"There were some issues that we needed to look at and we looked into them.

John Steele
Steele was previously UK Sport chief before taking up his Twickenham role

"It would be wrong of me to go into the information we received from some members of staff, from stakeholders and people within the game.

"All I can say is that there were 10 guys there and they delved into this very deeply, and all of us concluded it would be best if the union and John parted company.

"The board felt things weren't going in the direction they wanted. There was a vote and it was unanimous. There were no dissenting voices.

"We had a responsibility to do what we believe was right for the union."

Thomas admitted, however, that the seeds of Steele's departure were sown when he decided, on 17 March, to cancel an interview with Woodward without discussing it with him or fellow panel member Bill Beaumont.

"The interview was cancelled and John made that decision," Thomas said.

"Looking back on it, with hindsight, that was a defining moment where things were starting to go wrong.

"Whether Clive would have got the job if he had been interviewed is hypothetical, but certainly things started to go off track at that point.

"I think we owe a duty to people that have put themselves in that position to follow that process through to its conclusion.

"You only need one applicant that is right, they apply and you appoint them."

Woodward, currently director of sport at the British Olympic Association and deputy chef de mission for Team GB in London 2012, subsequently said he was not interested in a return to rugby union.

A five-man team comprised of Rob Andrew, Richard Hill, Jason Leonard, John Spencer and Beaumont have been asked to compile a report for the RFU board on how other countries use a performance director.

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