Rugby: England players may decline to take part in probe on World Cup failure

England players react at the end of their Rugby World Cup loss to Australia, which saw them knocked out of the tournament, on Oct 3, 2015.
England players react at the end of their Rugby World Cup loss to Australia, which saw them knocked out of the tournament, on Oct 3, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - English rugby's search for meaningful answers following the team's World Cup group-stage exit may never get off the ground as reports emerge that players are reluctant to cooperate against an increasingly feverish backdrop of recriminations.

Anger and disappointment remain palpable in England following the hosts' humiliating 33-13 defeat to Australia at Twickenham.

That condemned them to a first group-stage exit, prompting calls for a review into the debacle and for coach Stuart Lancaster to be replaced.

Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie will lead the probe.

"It (the review) needs to be comprehensive and we need to look at what we need to do to do better. I think it is right to have an insight (from the players). We've always done that and we shall continue to do that, and we'll do it on a confidential basis," he said.

Among the issues expected to be examined are: the elevation of rugby league convert Sam Burgess into the squad at the expense of Luther Burrell; the balance of power between Lancaster and his assistant coaches; and the clampdown on players' commercial opportunities versus national team sponsorship obligations.

A similar process following England's 2011 quarter-final defeat in New Zealand pointed the finger at a number of senior players and called their commitment into question.

That report was leaked to the British media, creating a legacy of mistrust and resentment which endures to this day.

British media on Wednesday said players were wary of providing even anonymous feedback this time.

Both the Times and Telegraph reported players felt betrayed four years ago, and that some members of Lancaster's squad could decline to participate.

Lancaster says he has nothing to hide and called on the RFU to be transparent with its findings. Asked if he would be happy for the review to be published, he said: "I wouldn't have a problem with any of it. It would be good if the review was allowed to be done properly, privately, professionally and speedily, then whatever happens, happens," he added.

The coach also said he would "wait and see how I feel and how the RFU feel in the next couple of weeks", when asked about his future.