Aussies brand Rowell row a `disgrace'

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The Rugby Football Union hierarchy's astonishing ability to make the worst of a bad job plumbed previously unfathomable depths here yesterday as the rumpus over Jack Rowell's future as national coach continued to overshadow the small matter of today's one-off Test between Australia and England.

Rowell could not have received more sympathy had he phoned the New South Wales branch of the Samaritans. Meanwhile, his hapless employers were forced to soak up a torrent of stick, much of it dished out by the Wallabies.

Greg Smith, the Australian coach and Rowell's direct opponent at the Sydney Football Ground, was almost incandescent with anger at the way his rival's position had been undermined over the last few days. "It's a disgrace, an absolute disgrace," he said. "I just don't understand the mentality of some people. There is no morality here. If they've sent Jack here to do a job they should let him do it, but people have their own agendas and push things all the time. It sort of makes me sick."

Rowell also received a private vote of support from his players, many of whom were surprised and angered at news that Don Rutherford, the RFU's technical director, had spent several hours in New Zealand trying to lure Graham Henry, the highly-regarded Auckland provincial coach, with a place in the England set-up.

Rutherford denied offering Rowell's post to Henry. "It is wildly inaccurate to suggest anything of that nature; for a start, I can't see an imminent situation in which a non-English coach would be given charge of the England team," he said.

Such a step would horrify Geoff Cooke. "I would be appalled if England turned to an overseas coach," the former England manager said. "We can have outside help, but when it comes to coaching the national side I believe it should be an Englishman."

With the Scotsman Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach, and Australian Bob Dwyer, the Leicester director of rugby, also being sounded out, Rowell, whose contract expires at the end of August, has been in a vulnerable position for some time. But the timing of this week's developments, disrupting as they did the build-up to a fearfully difficult game, was as depressing as it was farcical.

Not that the Wallabies, who have never lost to England on home soil, will be particularly understanding when today's game kicks off under lights in front of a 41,000 sell-out crowd. Humiliated by the All Blacks last weekend, John Eales and his men are acutely aware of the need for a big performance.

"We have to show the people in this country that we are a better side than we looked against New Zealand," said Smith, who expects Tim Horan, the world's best centre in the early Nineties, to underline his potential as an equally influential outside-half.

"In the end, Tim will be a genius of a No 10. He has his deficiencies at the moment but we need a stand-off who can beat teams from that position. He has the speed and running skills to do that."

If Horan does indeed blow hot, England may find themselves exposed for pace at the back. They lost Tony Underwood, their quickest wing, to a torn hip muscle yesterday - Nick Beal of Northampton steps up for his second cap - and with Jeremy Guscott back home in Bath, the midfield also has the stamp of inexperience about it.

England have never beaten the Wallabies on Australian soil and given the brutal rigours of a seven-week Lions tour involving all but three of their starting line-up, today's assignment would have been daunting without the pantomime surrounding their coach's job. Under these embarrassing and entirely avoidable circumstances, victory would be nothing short of miraculous.

n Martin Johnson, captain of the Lions' in South Africa, has been told it could be six weeks before he plays again after undergoing a groin operation.

AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND

at Sydney Football Ground

M Burke NSW 15 T Stimpson Newcastle

B Tune Queensland 14 J Bentley Newcastle

J Little Queensland 13 N Greenstock Wasps

J Holbeck ACT 12 P de Glanville Bath, capt

J Roff ACT 11 N Beal Northampton

T Horan Queensland 10 M Catt Bath

G Gregan ACT 9 M Dawson Northampton

C Blades NSW 1 G Rowntree Leicester

M Foley Queensland 2 M Regan Bristol

E McKenzie ACT 3 D Garforth Leicester

G Morgan Queensland 4 N Redman Bath

J Eales Queensland, capt 5 S Shaw Wasps

D Manu NSW 6 L Dallaglio Wasps

T Coker ACT 8 T Rodber Northampton

B Robinson ACT 7 R Hill Saracens

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand). Kick-off: 11.0am (Sky Sports 2)

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