Irish at boiling point

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reports from Durban

While England's World Cup squad were steadily boiling as they trained in yesterday's relentless heat here in Durban, the Irish management were boiling with rage at a report from home that one of them was part of the management no longer.

The bizarre piece of disinformation that had emerged in Belfast had it that Gerry Murphy, the coach, had been sacked after journeying all the way to Johannesburg with his erstwhile team and that Noel Murphy, the manager, had been put in complete control.

The report appears to have arisen from Ireland's wretched effort in Italy a fortnight ago. But yesterday the two Murphys sat together at a table with Ken Reid, the Irish Rugby Football Union president who happens to come from Belfast, to lend substance to their denial. "We have had discussions after the disappointment of losing to Italy but now the morale of the players could not be higher," Reid said. "The story is rubbish and the last thing we need in the build-up to the World Cup."

What is as good as settled, however, is that Gerry Murphy will cease to be coach once the tournament is over and the IRFU make a new appointment. No matter what happens in South Africa, Murphy himself expects then to be relieved of his duties even though he has allowed his name to go forward, along with those of John O'Driscoll, the former Lions flanker, and Harry Williams, ex-coach of Ulster.

Meanwhile, in Cape Town yesterday the establishment of a southern-hemisphere equivalent of the Five Nations' Championship moved significantly nearer when the leaders of the South African, New Zealand and Australian unions set up a company to decide on the format of international and interprovincial competitions as well as handling attendant commercial negotiations.

This development followed the revelation in New Zealand that the NZRFU was on the point of reaching agreement with Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd to support the formation of new competitions. Either way, it is prospectively another mammoth step towards overt professionalism which the New Zealanders, terrified of the threat posed by rugby league, have now espoused with a fervour that has taken aback even the South Africans and Australians.

No such worries - not yet, anyway - for England, whose only commercial concern is to make sure two-thirds of the squad wear Cellnet jerseys and one-third Courage at training, though yesterday Dean Richards was seen wearing a simple England cap emblazoned with only a rose before a hamstring twinge prompted his early, precautionary retirement.