Ashton's fate hangs in the balance as Johnson tipped to be team manager
BRIAN Ashton will discover exactly what future – if any – he has as England's head coach when Rob Andrew fronts a specially convened management board meeting at Twickenham today.
Andrew is expected to propose World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson as England's new hands-on team manager, an appointment which could undermine Ashton's position.
Ashton, pictured below, had been promised a manager of his own choosing – someone who would share the managerial and administrative burden but who would not get involved in rugby affairs.
But that changed after the RBS Six Nations Championship when senior officials at the Rugby Football Union grew concerned over England's inconsistent performances.
Andrew was given the green light to recruit Johnson, who is unlikely to accept the role unless he is granted full control over England affairs.
But that would leave Ashton, who guided England to the World Cup final last autumn and their best Six Nations finish in five years, in limbo having lost his powers of selection and his authority.
The RFU have publicly insisted they want Ashton to remain on board but critics describe the union's treatment of the head coach as "appalling".
Former national coach Dick Best said: "I find it amazing that in this day and age of human resources they have the audacity to treat someone in this fashion. Brian has a very good track record and he is probably still the best attacking coach in the country.
"I don't think he has been consulted the whole way through the process. It has been incredibly badly handled but that is in keeping with the way the RFU handle their business.
"Brian is 61. Does he need to be treated like this? He is a very proud man. I believe he is meeting with them today. I think Brian Ashton may well make the decision himself. I am not convinced Brian Ashton will still be around."
Last week the RFU claimed Ashton had been kept "fully informed" and insisted they had accelerated the process in order to reach a swift conclusion.
But Best has questioned why it took two reviews in the space of three months to reach the conclusion that a team manager was required.
Ashton and his predecessor Andy Robinson have both been arguing the need for an appointment since 2004.
Best said: "There appears to be a reluctance to give the coach what he wants. They have ignored his requests and gone out and got their own man."
Despite being critical of the process and the RFU's handling of Ashton, Best believes Johnson has all the qualities required to make a success of the role.
Johnson has not been involved in rugby since retiring as a player in 2005 but Best said: "Martin is an exceptional guy. Managing rugby players is something he has done through his captaincy career, on and off the field.
"He has been Lions captain twice, he has been England captain and won the World Cup. He has a lot of skills he can bring to the job and I think he can do a very good job for England.
Johnson is not likely to tour New Zealand in the summer because his wife is expecting their second child, which raises the possibility that Ashton could be asked to select the squad and lead the trip.
Johnson is also the clubs' representative on the new Professional Game Board, which will run elite rugby in England from 1 July, and that position will need to be assessed.
Additionally, Johnson may well have his own ideas about England's coaching structure. Last week he met Shaun Edwards, who pledged his future to Wales.
STORY SO FAR
Nov 2007: Brian Ashton leads England to surprise RWC final appearance bit some players criticise his coaching style in their tournament diaries.
Dec 2007: Ashton re-appointed England head coach on 12-month rolling contract.
March 2008: England finish third in Six Nations, with defeats to Wales and Scotland.
21 March: RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew reported to have entered into negotiations with Martin Johnson over wide-ranging England manager role, putting Ashton's position in doubt.
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