Rugby Union: A nation searches for its saviour

Robert Cole surveys the WRU's list of candidates for a thankless job
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THEY have said it before, now they are saying it again: "We will scour the world to find the best available man for the job."

That was the bold promise from the Welsh Rugby Union before they opted to put Kevin Bowring in charge as the national coach. Thirty months down the line, and without any significant advancement on the field, the hunt is on for a new Messiah.

The difference this time is that the chairman of the WRU, Glanmor Griffiths, has said that "significant finance" will be made available to net the right man.

For starters there will be a minimum pounds 25,000 pay-out to Bowring, whose contract still had 18 months to run, and it could take double the salary paid to the old coach, pounds 46,000 a year, to attract someone of the highest calibre.

The new coach should get his demands in early, as Bowring discovered to his cost. In the wake of Wales' record Five Nations' Championship defeats by England and France this season, Bowring made a series of proposals with next year's World Cup in mind. Terry Cobner, the WRU's rugby director, revealed that these included contracting 25 players for the whole of next season's Five Nations, scrapping domestic promotion and relegation, having an Anglo-Welsh club competition and four Welsh regional teams participating in Europe.

"Kevin insisted that these requests be put in place - he was adamant that if we were to be successful, his ideas had to be adopted," Cobner said. "I am disappointed for Kevin but now we must press ahead to find the right man who can put us back on track."

When that man is found, the WRU might have to pay compensation if he is at present tied into an existing contract. So where do they look? Down Under is the preferred view of the majority of people connected with the Union, despite there being a number of tried and trusted Welsh candidates more or less on their doorstep.

Leading the names from the southern hemisphere, basically because he is over here and readily available, is the 1991 World Cup winning Australian coach Bob Dwyer. After club spells with Racing Club, in Paris, and Leicester, both of which ended in a parting of the ways, he is champing at the bit waiting for another opportunity.

Already the rumour mongers have sighted him in Cardiff and the 57-year- old Dwyer has admitted he is at least willing to help Wales find the right man. If that sounds as though the Welsh job might be too much of a headache for him, who can blame him?

The new man will be the seventh coach in the past decade and he will inherit one of the most poisoned chalices in the game. With so much strife in northern hemisphere rugby, a diminishing playing population and a crumbling competitive structure in Wales, and the fact there will be enormous pressure on the Welsh side when they host next year's World Cup, it is easy to understand why even those coaches who like a challenge might shy away from the post.

The bookies in Cardiff suspended betting yesterday because so many people wanted to back their overnight favourite, Mike Ruddock. The former Swansea coach, who steered the All Whites to two league titles, a Welsh Cup and a victory over Australia in five years at the helm, is now the director of coaching at Leinster.

The Irish province issued a stern "hands-off" warning to the WRU yesterday, while the Pontypridd coach Dennis John, who with Ruddock was one of two assistant coaches with Wales at the 1995 World Cup, said he was out of the running.

The request this weekend from the National Sports Council of South Africa to the WRU to cancel their proposed tour to the Republic this summer could not have come at a better time. If Wales do not have to tour it would give everyone breathing space and save the Union the embarrassment of having to find a caretaker coaching team. It would also save a depressed Welsh public another hammering.