New RFU chief executive visits Herts Advertiser country

Herts Advertiser sport editor James Ronayne speaks to John Steele about his new role and the preparations for the 2015 Rugby World Cup

JOHN Steele, the new chief executive officer of the Rugby Football Union, was in Herts Advertiser country at the weekend meeting local people in the game to seek their views and ideas.

Steele’s trip to Hertfordshire saw him visit Woollams on Friday before heading to Radlett on Saturday to take in Tabard’s 28-14 victory over Stevenage Town and at both venues he got to meet the people that are the lifeblood of the sport in this area.

Steele, who took over from Francis Baron in September, had an illustrious career in the sport playing both in the amateur and professional era and coaching Northampton Saints to the Heineken Cup in 2000 and the 46-year-old says he is enthusiastic about his new role.

“It’s very exciting so far,” he told the Herts Advertiser.

“Its only seven weeks into the job and my priority really is to get around to as many clubs as I can and speak to people in the game, find out what’s going well and what we can work on, what are the challenges. It’s great to be talking to rugby people.

“I’ve spent a lifetime in rugby from mini rugby right through to my playing days, which spanned the amateur and professional era, and then I coached professionally and I’ve been a sports administrator.

Most Read

“The last five years I’ve spent in the Olympic and Paralympic environment with Beijing and the preparations with London so to now come back into rugby, it’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to the challenges.”

Steele’s brief is to look over all aspects of the game and he says he is encouraged by what he has seen on his roadshow tour of the country.

“I overview the whole of the game really,” Steele explained.

“The shop window for the game if you like is the England team, both the men and women but the base and the lifeblood of the game is the community game and the minis and the youth so I’m fortunate enough to be dealing with all aspects.

“I’ve been really encouraged by some incredibly dedicated volunteers and without volunteers we wouldn’t have a game.

“There’s a lot of people, a lot of kids and youths coming in playing the game. There are challenges around the 16-24 year age group making sure we keep and retain people in the sport then, especially when they go away from home for higher education. Those are the things we’re looking at and I’m sure we can come to terms with those.”

One of the biggest challenges Steele will face in the coming years is preparing the country to host the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

The CEO described the event as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for him and he is excited by the opportunities the tournament can present for the game in this country.

“I think the game is in a really positive place and I’m looking forward to seeing what a home World Cup in 2015 can also do to drive the growth of the game,” he explained.

“Having been involved in the preparations for London (2012 Olympics) they are once in a lifetime opportunities.

“I think the Rugby World Cup in 2015 will probably present us with three opportunities. One is to drive revenues into the sport, the second is to really grow the game and get a lot of people introduced to the game, and if you want get a generation to fall in love with rugby and stay in rugby for life. And lastly to win it, to pick up the Webb Ellis Trophy at the end of the tournament.”

Steele has talked about the 2015 World Cup leaving a legacy behind and he said he hopes the tournament will inspire people to get involved in the game

“I think that something like a World Cup can inspire,” Steele added.

“I think the people involved, the role models in the England team and the professional game can inspire people to want to be involved in the game and be like their role models.

“Also I think it’s about enjoyment and whether it’s in community rugby or in an England shirt you have to enjoy the sport. You have to want to experience rugby and carry on experiencing. Without that enjoyment people won’t stay involved so it’s really important we stay true to our values and one of those is enjoyment.”

The core values of the game are fundamental to the success and enjoyment of rugby and Steele admitted that the game shouldn’t be complacent about protecting those values and making sure that they remain at the heart of the game.

“I think the values of the game remain strong,” said Steele.

“I think with professionalism and a changing world we cannot be complacent that the uniqueness of the game, its values, that’s the core of what makes it so enjoyable and makes so many of us so passionate about the game won’t just necessarily carry on unless we’re really diligent about how we educate new people into the game and how we remind them about what the values are and what the game means.”

Before England turn their attentions to hosting the World Cup in 2015, they must head to New Zealand next year to challenge for the Webb Ellis trophy and Steele believes the emergence of young talent like Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton gives England plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

“I’m really encouraged by the talent, and I think it’s credit to the academy system over the last 10 years that we’ve really started to produce some great young England talent,” said Steele.

“We saw six England players that beat Australia down in Australia last year in their debut seasons. So these are players that have got a lot of rugby ahead of them and will be looking to get some great experience in the autumn in the Investec Autumn Internationals through the Six Nations and into the 2011 World Cup.

“I think what we’ll find out in the Investec’s is how we’ll fare against the best in the world.

“I think there’s no other scenario where you’ll meet the three best teams in the World in a matter of a few weeks. That’s an incredibly intense scrutiny of where we are on the road to 2011 and I think we’ll know by the end whether we’re capable of competing with the best in the world.”