Nothing to lose for new Wales coach

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RUGBY UNION

BY STEVE BALE

It will probably be tomorrow before the Welsh Rugby Union names its chosen successors to Alan Davies and the rest of the ousted Wales management team - another day for any would-be coaches working up a thirst to ask themselves if they really want to sup from this poisoned chalice. "There is far too much infighting and chapel rivalry," Davies said last night.

Latterly coaches who have come into this job have not gone at a time of their own choosing but if Alex Evans and Mike Ruddock, front-runners to share the succession, insist - as Davies did four years ago before the last World Cup - that they are temporary, at least they will genuinely have nothing to lose.

Nothing to lose after a season when Wales, and by extension Davies's stock, went from top to bottom. The WRU's general committee was finally persuaded to vote against Davies, Gareth Jenkins and Robert Norster by a substantial 21-6 because when Wales lost to Ireland it was as if they had had no, rather than endless, preparation.

Notwithstanding last season's championship, crises in Welsh rugby remain perennial. Remember that as recently as the start of the 1994 Five Nations Davies was widely supposed, not least by himself, to be one defeat from either jumping or being pushed. His Wales proceeded to win the next three.

But when it came to the equivalent crisis point this season, his Wales had nothing and even the protestations of support by Ieuan Evans and Robert Jones carried none of the conviction with which the same two had publicly pleaded for him to stay on after the humbling experience of the 1991 World Cup.

Once Davies had lost the sympathy of, and empathy with, his own players he could hardly expect either from the committee. Wales won 18 and lost 17 of their matches while he was coach but a more damning statistic is that in matches against the old-established rugby countries they lost 14 and won only six.

"As far as coaching a rugby team again is concerned, or a club, I very much doubt I will put myself or my family through that agony again," Davies said, adding that he fancied working as a specialist on goal-kickers, scrum-halves or the throwing-in of hookers.

If the ex-coach reflects, as he reasonably might, that the responsibility ought to lie with the players - the very point Ieuan Evans and Jones made last week - he has often stated that, if the coach cannot get them to play for him, that is the coach's fault. "We felt it was time to go, and let someone else, a fresh voice, come in to whip the boys up," Davies said. "We were obviously not getting the best out of the team.''

This is how the WRU came to view not only Davies but before him Ron Waldron, John Ryan and Tony Gray. Waldron resigned due to ill health before he could be sacked after the calamitous 1991 tour of Australia which culminated in fighting between team members at the post-Test dinner in Brisbane. Ryan gave up a losing battle after Wales had fallen to a record defeat at Twickenham in 1990.

Ryan subsequently won a seat on the union and was the man who proposed Davies in '91 when the Arms Park hierarchy thought they had the reappointment of Tony Gray stitched up. Both Davies and Ryan were acclaimed as imaginative appointments at the time and you could argue that their failure was more of a reflection of the state of Welsh rugby, off as well as on the field, than their own shortcomings.

When Ryan succeeded Gray, Wales had just conceded 50 points in both Tests of a tour of New Zealand, Gray's downfall being even swifter than Davies's. First he coached Wales to third place in the inaugural World Cup in 1987, less of an achievement than it seems but not bad for all that as it included a defeat of Australia, and in '88 Wales won the Triple Crown for the first time in 10 years. Three months later he was sacked.

This is the sort of thing that should make Mike Ruddock, Alex Evans, Pierre Villepreux, John Hart and any other contender in rugby's coaching pantheon look hard before they leap. Yet Villepreux, for one, sounds as if he cannot wait: "If I got an offer I would pack my bags and leave.''

As a Frenchman, he would have a good idea about the Machiavellian world of Welsh rugby intrigue.

If Alex Evans and Ruddock are favoured to become caretaker coaches, the leading candidate to follow Norster as manager is none other than Geoff Evans, chairman of the WRU player development committee and the selector who had a very public falling-out with Davies over selection for the Irish game. Evans's threatened resignation has now been withdrawn.

WALES COACHES

David Nash 1967-68 resigned

Clive Rowlands 1968-74 retired

John Dawes 1974-80 retired

John Lloyd 1980-82 sacked

John Bevan 1982-85 retired ill health

Tony Gray 1985-88 sacked

John Ryan 1988-90 resigned

Ron Waldron 1990-91 resigned ill health

Alan Davies 1991-95 resigned

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