Martin Johnson officially takes charge of England tomorrow faced with the immediate challenge of restoring the reputation of the red rose jersey, which has been tarnished both on and off the field over the last month.
Two heavy defeats to a rebuilding New Zealand team and a serious sexual allegation made against four members of the touring squad has put English rugby in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
The players strongly deny the allegation of rape and/or sexual assault and no formal complaint has been made to Auckland police.
Johnson missed the tour because his wife, Kay, was giving birth to their second child and stand-in manager Rob Andrew bore the brunt of the criticism for what occurred in New Zealand.
From tomorrow, England will hope to wipe the slate clean.
Johnson will be the man in charge, armed with huge respect and a new agreement between the Rugby Football Union and the clubs that will provide England with unprecedented access and control over their players.
Efforts to repair the on-field damage begin immediately, with Johnson to name his senior England squad for the forthcoming season tomorrow.
While RFU disciplinary boss Jeff Blackett is undertaking an inquiry into the behaviour of the New Zealand four, Johnson will make his selections on merit alone. Any required disciplinary action would be taken retrospectively.
England hold a five-day training camp in August and then have a two-week build-up to both the autumn internationals and the RBS 6 Nations.
It is the scenario England coaches have been fighting for since Sir Clive Woodward’s day.
“This is just the start and it is not a guarantee that England will win every game - but for the first time the players know where they stand and the coaches have time to work with them,” said Bath prop David Barnes, chairman of the Professional Rugby Players’ Association.
“With that kind of access, England’s results should improve.”
The off-field issues thrown up by the New Zealand tour are broader and more complex.
For the first time, England players will be contracted to the RFU and bound by a new code of conduct contained therein, which replaces the old teamship rules drawn up in Woodward’s day.
After the alleged incident in New Zealand, RFU chief executive Francis Baron stated England players also need to be educated on how to handle their new-found celebrity status.
The PRA have been attempting to push through player education programmes for some time and now they have a chance to bring those ideas directly to the new Professional Games Board, which will run elite rugby in England from tomorrow.
“We have been consulted before but never had a vote at the top table of English rugby. Now we have a voice loud and clear,” said Barnes
“Through the PGB, we can bring items like player welfare to the table. This is a significant step forward.”