Rob Andrew believes England’s chances of success at the World Cups in 2011 and 2015 could depend greatly on what happens in the boardrooms at Twickenham and Premier Rugby over the next six months.
The Rugby Football Union are conducting a widespread structural review – designed to create a new long-term, workable framework for the elite game in England.
A draft report will be presented to rugby’s key stakeholders through February, before the RFU instigate a three-month game-wide consultation process.
Final conclusions and recommendations are expected to be made in June 2007 – and Andrew believes the right outcome would benefit English rugby for at least the next decade.
"This is a very serious process that is going to take place over the next six months initially – but the implementation of whatever comes out of this is about the future of the professional game over the next 10 years," said Andrew.
"The RFU decided last May that this next period of consultation would actually be one of the most significant pieces it has worked on since the start of the professional game in England."
The aim of the ‘Way Forward’ project is for the RFU and the clubs to reach a joint solution to the issues which have dogged rugby since the advent of professionalism.
The troublesome Long Form Agreement expires in 2009, and the RFU want a replacement by this summer.
RFU chief executive Francis Baron said: "The ‘Way Forward’ project was triggered by difficulties in negotiating arrangements for the elite players and the bouts of conflict between club and country.
"The sole motivation is to make sure that we move to a better system which delivers success at England level, success at club level and addresses player welfare issues which we are becoming increasingly concerned about.
"This is not going to be a short-term fix."
Andrew, Baron and management board chairman Martyn Thomas were angered by a Sunday newspaper report which stated the RFU were ready to launch a breakaway league of 10 franchises.
It was suggested that historic clubs such as Harlequins, Leicester and Northampton would be axed in favour of RFU franchises based in Richmond, Coventry and Bedford.
"It is just fanciful. That plan does not exist on any piece of RFU paper that I am aware of. It clearly won’t work," said Baron.
"We need to base whatever we do on clinical, factual analysis. From there we can start identifying how we improve our current structures.
"We now have to find long-term and lasting solutions. There has to be a solution that resolves once and for all the long-running issues we all know have hindered the development of professional rugby in England.
"It is not going to be done overnight; it is going to be done by dialogue and coming up with solutions that people can buy into."
Thomas is confident they can succeed this time, where all previous efforts to find a working solution have failed.
"The rugby union is not interested in damaging the Premiership clubs," he said.
"Everyone, from the smallest club in the country upwards, wants a solution. "They want to see the white shirt of England out there winning. They want to see players not being injured and reading of premature retirements.
"They want a solution, and that is what we are charged with."