But the new chief executive of the Rugby Football Union is as resolute as his name suggests, and is determined not only to refurbish the game's image but ensure it flourishes both at grass roots and international levels. Not least now that it has joined the Olympic family.
I have been an admirer of Steele's qualities as one of the prime movers and shakers in British sport since he swapped the rugby field for the chief executive's office at UK Sport in 2005. That was an inspired appointment which ended this summer when he was made the proverbial offer he couldn't refuse to take over from Francis Baron as head honcho at Twickenham.
He says it was a wrench to leave UK Sport at a critical time with the London Olympics pulse quickening.
"It was incredibly exciting to be breaking new ground with the Olympics so when I was approached about this role I did have to think hard, really hard," he told me over breakfast at rugby's HQ this week. "But actually this is my sport, a sport I am passionate about, in which I've spent my life either playing, coaching or being involved.
"It really was absolutely the right job for me but I'm looking across at the Olympic environment with a lot of interest. Slightly vested interest in a way because I spent so much time on it and I want it to be a success which I am sure it will be.
"It is good that I will continue to be in touch with the Olympics because of the involvement of rugby sevens. For me, being in Beijing was a real eye opener about the power of Olympic sport and how it reaches further than just the competition. It crosses all cultures and has a global influence.
"I think sevens will have a big impact as an Olympic sport both for men and women. You will get countries that haven't been associated with any type of rugby now getting involved - countries like China. If there's a medal available they'll bring in coaches, organise talent profiles and hothouse people in the attempt to get one."
The former Royal Artillery captain and England A fly-half, 46, who played and coached at Northampton before turning around the financial fortunes of the Saints as executive director, has returned to rugby at a time when the profile of the sport has never been higher.
He says: "This is probably the most exciting time ever for British sport with the 2012 Olympics coming up. Rugby is a sport that is always looking to extend its boundaries and this is a prime opportunity. Ok, it's sevens and not 15s, but it's a foothold in the game for a lot of countries."
Could the Olympics ever embrace the full-blown game?
"I think sevens is perfectly suited to the Olympics. It is very user friendly, there's a great atmosphere, it's quick, it's punchy. Some aspects of 15-a-side rugby can be quite complex. Sevens you can explain to someone in five minutes, even if they have never watched it before."
In his five-year stewardship of UK Sport Steele had overall responsibility for orchestrating Britain's anti-doping programme and procuring world-class events, as well as the organisation being the conduit for Lottery funding for elite sport.
It will stand him in good stead at Twickenham where, he says "there is a lot going on".
"Since I started I've been out on the road talking to people at the goalposts of the game - players, volunteers, referees, coaches. I've been down to Cornwall, Somerset, Wiltshire, Yorkshire, Hertfordshire, Bucks, all over meeting all the constituent bodies.
"It has been a very positive first impression for me. We've got a thriving game at minis and youth level, the base of the pyramid which is very healthy. There are a lot of kids coming into and enjoying the game. Probably where we start experiencing issues is among the 16 to 24-year-olds where there is a retention problem.
"That is not specific to rugby. This probably reflects a different culture, change in attitudes from youngsters who are at a period of their lives when they are mobile, leaving the community they've been in to go into further education or employment.
"That's something we have to look at. We have to ensure we are forward thinking in terms of the different formats of rugby. It is not just about 15-a-side, three o'clock on a Saturday. There's tag, there's touch, there's sevens, women's rugby, all these different areas which we have to be aware of and develop. I think the game is in a good place at the moment but there's lots of work to be done on how we develop players, referees, coaches and volunteers.
"Getting young players into the game is a challenge for all sports but rugby does have a unique culture with the way the game is played and the camaraderie on and off the pitch. The values of the game are very strong - we can never be complacent about that, we need to preserve and develop them.
"One of the things the RFU is involved with is training police officers to become coaches who then go into the schools and the kids then see them as their coach rather than a policeman which creates a trust and is a way of using sport to break down any barriers (there are 600 of these coaches). It has been a phenomenal success."
Like all sports, rugby will be hit by a decrease in Government funding but is in a better financial position than some to absorb this.
"It is something we have to stand up and cope with, as will all sports. I think [Sports Minister] Hugh Robertson has done a very good job at managing the difficult balance between sport playing its part in what is a national issue and making sure we keep on the right path in developing Olympic and non-Olympic sports. If it had been handled differently, it would have been disastrous for sport."
While the RFU is not as dysfunctional as the body governing the round ball game, there have been problems to sort out at Twickenham, where Steele is engaged in a comprehensive review of its entire workings. No area will escape scrutiny, including the management of the England team.
But he insists Martin Johnson (pictured) will be given time, and that rugby fans are not as impatient as those in football demanding the head of under-achieving Fabio Capello.
"The England team is our shop window but as with any sport at any one moment you can't have instant success. Rugby fans have actually been very patient and they understand the need to develop sides.
"If you look at the success of 2003 [when Sir Clive Woodward's team won the World Cup], and work back from there, '99 was a pretty difficult World Cup for England. But they learned from that and the squad was then better able to deliver at key times and that resulted in the success of 2003.
"There have been some difficult years after that huge high but since 2007 a lot of players involved in 2003 exited the scene and we have a new group of players under Martin. I think, after last week they showed they are starting to gel. Things are looking positive but success can't be delivered overnight and I think the rugby fraternity do understand that.
"But what they do expect is absolute commitment when the players run out on to the pitch and I think we have that at the moment. Last Saturday against the All Blacks we had five guys who had never played at Twickenham before so I think it's developing well.
"I have a good rapport with Martin. My job is to support him - whatever he needs, I am there to help him. He is very focused and committed to creating a successful England team. But, like everyone else, including me and some of the players, he is developing in the job.
"The signs are all there that we have a good young squad and he is blooding these youngsters in a shrewd way. It's not going to be easy and you could not ask for a bigger test at the moment with the three big international games we are playing against the best countries in the world.
"We have a vibrant Premiership but internationally are ranked sixth in the world and obviously we want to be higher. No one is happy with a loss but on Saturday we showed we can compete with the world's number one team.
"I would like to see us going into next year's World Cup [in New Zealand] with the ability to compete with the rest of the world. I think this autumn should give us a good indicator as to whether this is possible."
In 2015 Steele will be doing what his opposite number at the FA would love to be doing and organising a home World Cup.
"All our business plans and hopes will be driven by us staging the World Cup. Yes it's a tournament but it's also a catalyst for change as London has shown with the Olympics. If we don't drive the business forward, we won't have the resources to further the game at grass-roots, community and international level.
"We are looking at 2015 to underpin and help us attain all of our goals."
Steele, who has 12-year-old twin daughters with athletic aspirations, is clearly a man of some fortitude, having trekked up Everest and cycled across Vietnam and Cambodia raising money for anti-racism and cancer charities. He has himself beaten throat cancer.
That oval ball seems to have landed in a safe pair of hands.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.