Rugby Union: Bath coach Rowell to be Cooke's successor: Changes at the top on the cards as the man behind the most successful club in England gets national recognition

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JACK ROWELL is the best-known and most successful coach in English rugby but the Rugby Football Union took a step into the unknown yesterday when its full committee unanimously approved the recommendation of the executive by appointing Rowell as Geoff Cooke's successor as England manager. His appointment is initially to the end of next year's World Cup.

Rowell's ability and work are known quantities - and qualities - but his intentions once he takes office on Monday are another matter. For one thing, he will recommend his own coaching team and he would not have accepted the position if it did not have him, in a hands-on sense, at its head.

That clearly makes the position of Dick Best and Mike Slemen, the incumbent coaches, uncertain if not precarious. Slemen was Rowell's assistant coach when England B did their own version of the Grand Slam in 1992 and '93 and he went with Rowell when the B-team toured New Zealand, narrowly losing both internationals, in 1992.

Latterly, Rowell has been working as England A manager with Peter Rossborough and Les Cusworth. Rossborough was one of Rowell's rivals for the senior managership, while Cusworth could well now be given an immediate opportunity to step up and attend himself to England's non-penetrative back play.

Then there is the selection of the England tour party for South Africa, nothing like as clear-cut under the new man as it would have been had Cooke not taken his abrupt decision to retire. The England players who today face Wales at Twickenham, including even Will Carling, the captain, are playing for their international futures as they never would have been if Cooke were staying in situ.

Rowell, who is in his mid-fifties (Cooke is 52), has an extraordinary track-record in club rugby. A native of Hartlepool, he was an unusually thoughtful lock for Hartlepool Rovers, Middlesbrough and Gosforth and went on to coach the latter during the halcyon days of the mid-Seventies which included the cup in 1976.

He moved to Bath in 1978 and since 1984 the club have failed to take a trophy in only one season, 1987-88. They have won the cup seven times in the past 10 seasons and the Courage Championship four times in its six seasons' existence. This season they familiarly lead the league and are already cup semi-finalists.

Rowell will not comment until he takes office on Monday but it will be interesting to find out then how he intends combining a globe-trotting business life, as chief executive of the Dalgety food conglomerate in Market Harborough, with managing England. Terminating his connection with Bath next season will be an almost unbearable parting for both parties.


Born: Hartlepool.

Played for: Hartlepool Rovers, Middlesbrough, Gosforth.

Coached: Gosforth to John Player Cup win in 1976; Bath to Cup wins in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992; League titles 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993.

Coached: England B 1992; England A 1993; Manager England A 1994.