Rugby Union: Woodward courting Ashton for perfect union on summer tour

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The Independent Online
THE coaching careers of Clive Woodward and Brian Ashton are about to become entwined once more, if the usually reliable Twickenham bush telegraph is anything to go by, writes Chris Hewett.

Woodward, the England coach, wants Ashton, formerly of Bath and Ireland, to join his backroom panel for the summer tour of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and, while the Rugby Football Union would not comment on the matter yesterday, agreement was thought to be close at hand.

Woodward has long held Ashton's talents in high regard; indeed, he inherited his legacy when replacing Ashton at Bath last spring. As things stand, his coaching staff for the tour are John Mitchell, Phil Larder and Dave Alred, none of them a backs specialist. Ashton's appointment would complete the circle admirably.

"Clive is quite keen for me to get involved," acknowledged Ashton, who resigned his coaching role with Ireland in February after disagreements with the abrasive team manager, Pat Whelan. "Nothing has been decided as yet, though; in this professional era I would need to be under contract."

Ashton was among the coaches when England last travelled to New Zealand in 1985 and Jack Rowell, Woodward's predecessor as national coach and a long-time colleague at Bath, attempted to lure him on board before last season's Five Nations Championship, but was embarrassingly beaten to the punch by the Irish.

The end of season transfer merry-go-round was working overtime yesterday. Sale completed the signing of the former Wigan and Great Britain rugby league centre Barrie-Jon Mather while preparing to off-load Simon Mannix, the All Black stand-off, after Christmas in the direction of Gloucester.

Bath are courting Malcolm O'Kelly, the London Irish lock, and could soon dispense with their two Argentine Test players, Federico Mendez and German Llanes, while at Northampton there are rumours that their Scotland and Lions stand-off, Gregor Townsend, may move to Brive, in France.

l Blackheath have gone into liquidation. The club, founded in 1858, have called in the receivers following a failed attempt to raise pounds 1m to finance a proposed alliance with Auckland, the New Zealand provincial side.