On 13th October 2011, The Daily Mail reported that sponsors were tiring of England's Rugby World Cup antics. Blaming the 'chronic England player indiscipline that overshadowed the team’s failed World Cup campaign' it highlighted sponsors upset over the team's behaviour in New Zealand.
Land Rover, who back both England rugby and the World Cup, were cited after a contracted company day with the England side in which Land Rover Discoverys and Range Rover Sports were laid on for 11 players’ off-road use on Muriwai Beach near Auckland in the week before the group game against Scotland. The sponsors’ annoyance about what happened that day led to Land Rover voicing its frustrations to the IRB, while RFU sources expected that an official letter of complaint would be sent to Twickenham. It was reported that the upset included England players being ‘arrogant and rude’ to Land Rover personnel, treating the vehicles with no care and breaking the speed limit on the beach. It was further reported that the company had planned to use film from the day for advertising and promotional purposes, but at least some of the footage was unusable because of the England team’s couldn’t-care-less attitude. At the time a Land Rover spokesperson was quoted as saying, ‘Any discussions are part of our commercial partnership and therefore private.’
Land Rover had previously announced, in addition to its sponsorship of Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England extending the company’s strong association with the game. In recent years Land Rover has enhanced its role of Official Vehicle of England Rugby, Premiership Rugby and the UK’s Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup with the additional sponsorship of the last three British and Irish Lions Tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The story then seemed to be overshadowed by events and seemed to sink out of sight. However in the week that a report on England's lamentable Rugby World Cup was leaked from the RFU, inevitably the story has resurfaced and Land Rover has been forced to comment. It is a story that won't go away and even the Sports Minister Hugh Robertson has been forced to comment. He said that 'the attitude of England's rugby players at the 2011 World Cup was 'stuck in the old amateur era' and urged them to follow the standards of professionalism set by other sports such as cricket and rowing.'
Land Rover insisted that the RFU is to blame for misleading England players after World Cup reports reveal press day disaster. A Land Rover UK spokesman made it clear that any misunderstanding as to the nature of England's R&R fun day, driving its vehichles on a deserted New Zealand beach during the World Cup, must be laid totally at the feet of the RFU and the England team management. The leaked RPA report highlights the afternoon, when ten named England players attended what they thought was an entirely leisure-driven session driving the cars at speed on the beach and sand dunes, surfing, fishing and then enjoying a BBQ.
In the event it proved to be a commercial photoshoot which the players, by their own accounts, found very frustrating and boring so became bad tempered and truculent at what was considered to be a waste of time. It is suggested that their language allegedly grew worse, they drove the Land Rovers faster than requested by the instructors and eventually Land Rover, one of the blue chip England sponors, lodged an official complaint with the England management. 'Land Rover held a driving day with members of the England Rugby team during the recent Rugby World Cup,' confirmed a Land Rover spokesman. 'The event was a contractual appearance as part of Land Rover's sponsorship agreement with the Rugby Football Union. As with all of Land Rover's contractual appearances, it was the RFU's responsibility to brief their players about the agreed format of the event.'
Of the driving itself the spokesperson said, 'As the world's leading 4x4 brand, Land Rover is very experienced in organising driving events around the world. They are conducted with a high level of professionalism and safety is our number one priority at all times.'
In terms of timing it couldn't have been worse for rugby as Land Rover is due to renew its contract with the RFU but will not comment today on whether the incident in New Zealand will in any way affect those negotiations. The spokesperson would not be drawn on that matter however saying, 'We do not, as a matter of policy, comment on negotiations of a commercial nature.'
The players involved were Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes, Joe Simpson, Lee Mears, Tom Wood, David Wilson, James Haskell, Manu Tuilagi and Matt Banahan. Of these, the latter was praised by Land Rover in its 'complaint' for his polite behaviour and attitude.