Du Plessis has wings clipped

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The Independent Online
Carel du Plessis, the Springbok three-quarter christened the Prince of Wings by his adoring Cape Town subjects, yesterday completed a very public fall from grace by being unceremoniously dumped as South Africa's national coach. Du Plessis was only halfway through his 12-month contract, but a series defeat by the Lions and record hidings from New Zealand and Australia left his goose cooked to a frazzle.

Under his stewardship the Boks were beaten five times in eight outings. Nick Mallett, the former Oxford University No 8 who played two Tests for South Africa in 1984, is the hottest of favourites to succeed his former Western Province colleague. Ironically Mallett was considered the front- runner for the job before Du Plessis was chosen ahead of him last spring.

Du Plessis can consider himself a touch unfortunate. Injuries undeniably sabotaged his chances of prevailing over the Lions, and several of his Test defeats were by frustratingly narrow margins, but he also made life unnecessarily difficult for himself by ignoring hardened international performers in Hennie le Roux and Kobus Wiese, and, even worse, fielding sides with no proven goalkicker.

The Welsh Rugby Union, meanwhile, yesterday raised the stakes on the club versus country affair by warning its top players of the consequences of cold-shouldering international call-ups.

Terry Cobner, the Wales director of rugby, said: "From this moment on, any player making himself unavailable for any senior Welsh team other than for reasons acceptable to the WRU - births, deaths or marriages, for example - should forfeit his right to be selected."

The issue was brought to a head by last weekend's Test with Romania, which was scheduled 24 hours before an Allied Dunbar Premiership match involving Richmond, who have a number of high-profile Welshmen on their books. Two of the Richmond players, Allan Bateman and Barry Williams, agreed to play after a compromise over training requirements, but a third, Scott Quinnell, did not make himself available.