The poisonous fallout from England’s disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign continues to undermine attempts to address what appears to be such a mountainous list of problems, it’s a wonder Martin Johnson and his squad managed to get on the plane to New Zealand.
There’s enough finger-pointing, claims and accusations for English rugby to commission its own TV soap opera, but then, it’s doing such a good job washing its dirty linen in public completely unaided by broadcasters, why bother?
What must grate with those people at the RFU who are not solely intent on keeping their job is the stark, black-and-white contrast between their sport and English cricket.
Despite enormous sums of money flooding into rugby, the World Cup-winning legacy of 2003 has been wasted.
English cricket, by comparison, completely overhauled by Lord MacLaurin after he became chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in 1997, now sits atop of the world game.
Eight years ago, English cricket’s revival lagged that of the national rugby team, although the cricketers lost only three of 13 Tests played in 2003 and remained undefeated throughout 2004.
Building upon this solid foundation, since August 2009, England have lost only three of their 25 Test matches.
Unlike rugby (or football), the England cricket team is deliberately positioned at the very pinnacle of the nation’s cricketing pyramid, their elite players contracted to England full-time.
A sizeable proportion of the England squad earn in excess of £1 million a year following a change in the international salary and bonus structure which came into effect in 2008.
The players’ pension scheme was also improved, becoming linked to appearances, in a crude, but effective, attempt to prevent them joining the Indian Premier League to the detriment of the national team.
Of course, such root-and-branch change can only be implemented when supported by a regular flow of increasing amounts of capital, but as the English side has become more successful, so the supply of funding has accelerated.
Last week, for example, asset management company Investec announced it would be taking over from nPower as Test cricket’s principle sponsor and paying an estimated £50 million for the privilege over the next decade, an increase of around £10 million for the ECB.
Meanwhile, the board is also negotiating a new broadcasting contract, understood to be with Sky, who currently pay £280 million for Test match exclusivity.
English cricket’s commercial arm hope to conclude a deal covering a period of at least five years.
Broadcasting regulations prevent the ECB concluding a ten-year arrangement with Sky, but there’s every likelihood the pair will remain commercial partners for the foreseeable future with the existing rights fee likely to rise by at least 20%.
Furthermore, a significant increase in the value of England’s overseas broadcast rights will provide the ECB with an unexpected windfall.
Encouragingly, no-one at Lord’s is getting carried away by their speight of commercial (and on-field) successes.
The board’s announcement of the Investec deal was the largest commercial arrangement it had revealed since Alan Stanford’s ill-fated Twenty20 deal in 2008.
Stanford’s brazen arrival at the home of cricket, in what turned out to be a helicopter hired for the day rather than one brandishing his corporate colours, and the subsequent dramatic unveiling of a skip-load of millions of dollars offers the ECB a constant reminder of how rapidly things can go wrong.
Indeed, while the nPower, Investec and Sky deals have, and will, remain crucial to international and domestic cricketing progress, it would be stretching matters to say that all 18 first class English counties are bowled over by ECB proposals to change the domestic game’s structure from 2014 to link in with the new TV deal.
The proposals include cutting championship cricket from 16 to 14 matches, re-introducing a 50-over tournament and running the Twenty20 league over six weeks, with 14 matches played on the days best suited to each county.
Twenty20 cricket may be the current driver behind domestic cricket’s renewed popularity (which underpins several counties’ turnover), but in a nod acknowledging the need to maintain the flow of talented cricketers to the international arena, the ECB has also made two significant proposals.
The first is to reduce the county cricket salary cap from £1.9 million after 2012, the second is to provide counties with a financial reward for fielding players aged under 26 who are eligible to play for England.
At the moment, every country wants to play England.
Demand means that Andrew Strauss and his men could spend up to 250 days on the road next year, a punishing schedule encompassing the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, three Tests and a host of ODIs against Pakistan in the UAE and a four-Test series in India towards the end of 2012.
Strauss is confident that, despite being away from home for so long, discipline will be maintained.
The England cricket captain is too polite to suggest that the anger and bile which has flowed from his frustrated, ill-disciplined, rugby-playing counterparts over the past week will be conspicuous by its absence as his world beaters hop between the Middle East and Asia from next month onwards.
But we know that the team once considered a national joke will not accept anything which tarnishes their reputation and upsets sponsors.
Perhaps what is most frustrating for those in charge at Twickenham is that rugby is a considerably richer sport than cricket, yet the latter has undergone a radical overhaul and attracted sponsors as a result of its leaders having a clear vision of what they wanted to implement.
It’s time rugby did the same while it can still afford to.