Rugby: Streetwise coach caught up in the pussyfooting politics of the c ommittee room

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The Independent Online
On the basis that they are a blessed minority, there is seldom any prodding urge in this corner to take up cudgels on behalf of people in sport who are at odds with their employers.

However, some sympathy can be held out for Jack Rowell who, despite protestations of innocence, is clearly determined to get some sense out of the Rugby Football Union's national playing committee.

Remaining true to a tradition of procrastination, this faceless bunch appear unsure that Rowell is the best man to shape the international future of English rugby. If that is the case they should stop pussyfooting around and make their views public.

The basis of this argument (not that Rupert Murdoch would agree) is a contention that sport has no other reason or excuse for existence than the provision of entertainment for the public.

For England's supporters this amounts to producing a team who win matches in a pleasing manner. If Rowell has yet to achieve this ideal, and considering that there are no other obvious candidates, he is entitled to a long- term mandate for applying principles that have contributed greatly to his success in business.

Whether England's coach is finding it difficult to fulfil his obligation to the team is altogether a different matter, one that may well be proving troublesome to him personally. What the RFU has to address, and with some urgency is the quite ridiculous notion that the appointment of a national coach can be reviewed on an annual basis.

Unfortunately, the headlong rush into professionalism has left the rugby authorities without a clear idea of what it means in terms of development while clinging desperately to the power invested by history. As a result, Rowell, by all accounts not everyone's cup of tea, does not know what the future holds for him.

In any group of amateur administrators you are sure to find one or two with a sharp instrument concealed about their person.

For example, when Alf Ramsey broke the power of English football's selection committee in 1963 he made enemies who immediately began to conspire against him. Not even winning the World Cup and the knighthood that followed could fully protect him.

Ramsey was not a political animal. His team, his policies - "I suppose I'd better inform those people," he said typically one day in the west of Scotland, making off towards a group of powerless senior officials with belated word of the team he had selected. Ramsey, the feted of 1966, was fired six months after failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals.

Hardened by experiences in commerce, Rowell is a different proposition. The conclusion to be drawn from remarks he let drop on the nation in a radio interview before the defeat by France is that he felt it was time to start playing all the angles before they started playing him.

After all, it is only a short while since Rowell was confronted with the probability that he could not count on unanimous support in English rugby's legislative chamber. He did not need to be told but it made sense to get measured for a flak jacket. Doubtless, the job appeals to his ego, but is it worth doing for pounds 25,000-pounds 30,000 per year? "The England job is a big thing in my life," Rowell said after Saturday's match, "and I enjoy it enormously. I want the dust to settle and then get the whole thing sorted out."

Some may feel that Rowell's timing could have been better, that it did not help England's cause against France to raise dust in the first place. "If Glenn Hoddle had started something like this before an important match there would have been hell in the newspapers and on television," someone said. "Rowell was out of order."

Well, I don't think so. Not enough expertise is held here to justify comment on Rowell's ability as a coach, but we are talking about principle. If the RFU feels Rowell is the man for the job it should say so and reward him accordingly. Otherwise get rid of him. In any sport, the coach always knows who is boss. He found out when his predecessor was pitched into the street.

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