The RFU have announced professional rugby director Nigel Melville will leave the governing body in December to ‘pursue new opportunities’, with former Harlequins head coach Conor O’Shea appointed as his replacement.
O’Shea left Italy with immediate effect in October with six months remaining on his contract with the FIR, having assumed the role of head coach in March 2016.
Italy won nine of 40 Tests under O’Shea and exited the Rugby World Cup at the group stage, with the Irishman saying ‘I believe the end of the Rugby World Cup represents the best time for everyone to make changes’.
As director of performance with England Rugby, O’Shea will be responsible for the leadership, management and strategic direction of the Men’s and Women’s programmes across 15s and Sevens.
His appointment comes six months after the arrival of Bill Sweeney as chief executive of the RFU.
“I am privileged and honoured and it is an incredible opportunity to join at a really exciting time for English rugby,” O’Shea said.
“I’ve spent the last four years in Italy, six years at Harlequins and before that 10 years at London Irish, so I feel I know the system pretty well. The good times, the bad times, winning things and being competitive, so I can relate to the people and challenges that happen within our system. I have learned a huge amount internationally in the last few years as well.
“There is an exciting vision at the RFU. It is not just about winning tomorrow, but also about sustaining success and winning long into the future. We can really look forward to rejuvenating and re-energising the performance pathway to help, support and push England rugby on. As well as our relationships with all stakeholders, it’s about women’s rugby, sevens, referees and coach development, which is absolutely fundamental.
“There has been some fantastic work done over a long period of time in these areas and there have been some challenges for various reasons as well. Now hopefully there is an opportunity to have stability, with the ability to invest and really push forward and challenge ourselves to become better. We are here to provide a sustainable winning environment and I hope I can play my part in creating that.”
Change at the RFU involving O’Shea has been mooted for over a month, with his appointed preceded by Alan Dickens and Jonathan Pendlebury taking over the England U20 and U18 teams, respectively, in the past fortnight.
O’Shea follows in the footsteps of Melville, who was in charge of the last World Cup cycle which saw England go from group-stage pariahs in 2015 to finalists in Japan.
The former Wasps scrum-half and England international also oversaw the inception of the Women’s Premier 15s club league, which is in the last year of its three-year agreement.
An issue O’Shea will have to get up to speed quickly with along with the Championship, anti-doping, the RPA, and the RFU’s Professional Game Agreement with PRL.
Melville said: “I am proud of all that the organisation has achieved over the last three years during some challenging times. I believe that England Rugby is in a great place and that leaving after the 2019 Rugby World Cup is the right time as the RFU start a new era and prepare for the next Rugby World Cup cycle.”