Interview: Bob Dwyer: A new dawn in the West

Australia's finest will be trudging round the lower leagues this winter - and he can't wait. By Tim Glover

Bob Dwyer took a wrong turn at the Post House Hotel in Bristol and had to ring the office at the Memorial ground to find out where the hell he was. Dwyer, new to the job, will soon discover that he is in the Second Division at a club with a rich history and, until last week, no future.

After years of decay, Bristol had gone into receivership, the ground had been sold, and the players, those that were left, hadn't been paid. Even Arnie, the club cat, had done a runner following a record 76-0 defeat to Sale.

So how come a man regarded as one of the best coaches in the world finds himself at a West Country trouble-spot with the prospect of long hauls to places like Fylde, Rotherham, Wakefield and Waterloo?

"It's quite interesting how it happened," Dwyer said. "A friend said he wouldn't mind buying a rugby club and building it up. I suggested Bristol. Of all the clubs they have the most potential. I looked into it but then he decided he didn't have the time. My name became associated with Bristol although I hadn't been talking to them at all."

When Malcolm Pearce , a local businessman and a lifelong Bath supporter, took over the club last week, he offered Dwyer the post of director of rugby. Within two days the Australian had outlined his vision of Bristol's future and had spoken to the players. "I had already gone on record as saying that British rugby had to have Bristol as a leading club. It didn't make any sense that one of the few real centres of rugby in the country didn't have a viable Premiership team. When it came to the crunch I had to put my body on the line. I had to be part of it."

It was as if Bristol Rovers (who will share the Memorial ground with a club now called Bristol Rugby Ltd) had signed Alex Ferguson after the Scot had been sacked by Manchester United. The analogy arises because Dwyer, who coached Australia to World Cup triumph in 1991, was dismissed by Leicester, a Man U of English rugby, in bewildering circumstances last season.

They were certainly bewildering to Dwyer. "They refused to give me an explanation. I could mention bits and pieces but none of it would add up to a satisfactory reason. We were going great guns at the time. We were playing better rugby, we'd scored more tries, more points and won more matches than ever."

Dwyer, who had served 16 months of a two-year contract, had no inkling of the Night of the Long Knives. "I had made a suggestion about the next stage of development and they said 'fine, move it along'. I was going to present it to the board when Peter Wheeler [the chief executive] said there were lots of things on the agenda and rather than wait around I should go home and he'd give me a call. Later he rang me and said he had some bad news."

When Dwyer began talking about a financial settlement, there was more bad news. "They did not make things easy. We went backwards and forwards over the terms of the contract. At one point they said I hadn't really been sacked but that my duties had changed. They didn't have any idea how to implement the decision. It was totally undignified. One condition they came up with was that I couldn't coach another club. It dragged on for three months and I was hamstrung. It was ludicrous and nothing short of petty.

"If I had an opportunity to return to Leicester with an opposing team I think the crowd would welcome me back. I'm extremely grateful for their support. It was an important part of my stay at Leicester. Most of the squad were also sympathetic and a view expressed was that they had become better players."

Dwyer said he had "completely changed the culture of the team". By replacing him with Dean Richards, a Tigers icon, Leicester were reverting to a comfort blanket. "Outside of their own people they couldn't understand that somebody else had a genuine interest," Dwyer added.

He sold his place in Leicester and used the money to build an extension to his house in Coogee, Sydney. He thought about staying in Australia but at the age of 57 he has, if not something to prove, then unfinished business. He admits that his sudden exit from Welford Road "hurt like hell". It probably still does.

"I came here because I thought the biggest changes in world rugby would occur in Britain. I didn't realise so many people would raise so many obstacles. A European League has to happen at some stage and therefore it will. What we need is a highly professional, high-income game but in my view we have to play fewer matches for the same amount of money. At the moment we have the Band-Aid approach. We need more money, so we play more matches but that isn't going to help players reach a higher level. I'm just going to press on with a micro-problem in a macro-picture."

At Bristol he will renew acquaintance with Jack Rowell, the former England coach, who joins the new board as a non-executive director. "I haven't had time to talk to Jack, but I want him to be closer to it than perhaps he imagines. He knows his way around a rugby pitch. One of the giant problems is that not many people understand the level players need to reach or can aspire to. Jack understands. We can be frank with one another without worrying about hurting each other's feelings."

Yesterday Dwyer was in a Sky TV studio commentating on the Tri- Nations climax between South Africa and Australia; today he and his fellow coach Darryl Jones will have a better idea of what they have got when Bristol play Harlequins at Osterley. Among those who have left are the internationals Robert Jones, Kevin Maggs, Josh Lewsey and David Corkery. They are also without the flanker Craig Short who damaged a shoulder in training and will be out for 10 weeks.

"The plusses are bigger than the minuses," Dwyer said. "Guarantees have been lodged with the RFU and my first statement to the players is that they are in a much stronger financial position than they have ever been. They will be paid under the old contracts and new ones will be negotiated before the New Year. I told the owners not to do anything with me that they wouldn't do with the players."

Dwyer will sign a one-year contract. "I'm happy to be judged on that and if they want me to stay I''ll be happy to discuss that as well. My first aim is to build a talented, viable squad and then set about establishing a good position in the league.

"We haven't got much time and we might not be able to finish the first step before accomplishing the second. We want to be ready when we go back up and as the Premiership will be even stronger in a year's time, it's a moving target we are trying to hit."

With Bristol shipshape, and Dwyer and Rowell on board, there's no shortage of volunteers for the crew. "There are droves of players around on the pounds 30,000-40,000 mark who are worth pounds 15,000," Dwyer said. "What we want is somebody on pounds 15,000 who wants to play and who in the future will be worth pounds 50,000. We want the right guy in the right position at the right price. What interests me is that we are starting with a clean slate and the commitment is huge. My role is to help people realise their potential and I feel good that they feel good about that."

Since leaving school in 1957, Dwyer has been involved in rugby. "For 37 of those years there was no money," he said. "And 27 of those years were spent outside international rugby. If I was driving past a field anywhere and there was a game of rugby I'd have to stop and have a look. I don't need to be on the big stage all the time. I don't have a great ego as a coach but I want to test my abilities all the time. I really like coaching a rugby team."

Arnie, the cat, by the way, has returned to the Memorial ground.

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Life & Style
Wasp factory: 1.3 million examples of the Vespa scooter have been sold in the last decade
motoringIconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act