Rugby: Rowell contract talks to drag on

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The saga over Jack Rowell's possible reappointment as England coach is in serious danger of lasting almost as long as the personal contract he is trying to negotiate with the Rugby Football Union. Derek Morgan, a leading light on the national playing committee, said yesterday that the matter was unlikely reach an early resolution.

Both men were paragons of inscrutability at the weekend. While Rowell agreed in one breath that a full-time coaching position might pose an insurmountable conflict with his outside business interests - which, it should be said, earn him considerably more than the pounds 30,000 he receives from the RFU - he also indicated that he was keen to reach a compromise.

Morgan stopped short of insisting that the next coach, be it Rowell or anyone else, would have to commit himself to the job seven days a week. "We feel we shouldn't have a hard and fast rule, but should tailor the job to suit the needs of the right man," he said. If those thoughts become policy, Rowell's chances of staying in charge will be far greater than they appeared last week.

The national playing committee is scheduled to meet on 11 March, four days before the Wales-England championship finale in Cardiff. However, Morgan said a postponement was likely - a sensible move, given the obvious danger of distracting Rowell's attention from what remains an important Triple Crown match for his team.

Rowell's contract expires on 31 August and as things stand, he will lead a Lions-less England on their two-Test tour of Argentina this summer. He has repeatedly expressed his enthusiasm for the trip and despite his disappointment at defeat by France he said: "If I were to give it up now, it would be with the greatest reluctance. The England job is a big thing in my life and we are starting to make progress."

According to Morgan, the RFU wants to move to a natural cycle of contract covering the four years between World Cups. Whoever leads England into next season is likely to be on a two-year deal because the next World Cup is in 1999.

Cliff Brittle, chairman of the RFU executive committee, is threatening to sue the union, and his fellow committee member John Morten, whom he alleges made libellous comments about him. At a press briefing last week, Morten made apparently offensive remarks about Brittle's recent activities in the internal dispute.