Rugby Union: Best becomes coach at London Irish

Five Nations Countdown
Click to follow
The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S full-time professional coaches have spent most of the season talking like football managers - "We're taking it game by game" - but they are now beginning to discover one or two less agreeable parallels with their sheepskin-coated brethren. Willie Anderson started yesterday as the big cheese at London Irish but ended it as another sporting unemployment statistic. It was not the first big-name sacking of the season and it will not be the last.

Given Bob Dwyer's unceremonious dumping by Leicester just 48 hours earlier, the outspoken Irishman's departure was not even the first of the week. Dick Best, the former England and Lions coach given the bum's rush by Harlequins at the end of last season, will replace Anderson on an interim basis while the Exiles conduct what they termed a "worldwide search" for a permanent successor.

"Dick will be overseeing all aspects of our rugby operation," enthused Geoff Reade, the London Irish chairman. "We are fortunate to be able to bring a world-respected rugby mind into the club at this critical time. We still have 11 Premiership games to play and under his guidance, we are hoping for a strong second half of the season and a couple of significant upsets."

Best himself was less upbeat. "I'm under no illusions about the task ahead," he said.

Until recently, Best was working abroad, helping to prepare Western Province, the top South African side, for the forthcoming Super 12 series. He was not entirely happy with his lot in Cape Town, however, and readily agreed to bring his veritable wealth of experience to Irish in their hour of need.

His new club are currently bottom of the Allied Dunbar Premiership and will be in the most desperate straits if they fail to beat Bristol, their fellow strugglers, in a dog-fight at the Memorial Ground this evening.

Best is hopeful of making an impact, though. "We have a good, young squad of players, a strong vision of the future and a committed and focused board, all of which are essential for a successful professional rugby programme," he said.

Anderson, a former Irish lock and captain, took over as director of rugby at Sunbury in November 1996, replacing Clive Woodward, the current England coach. Thanks to an underpowered squad and a series of debilitating injuries to key players, he endured a rough ride almost from day one and came within a whisker of losing last season's two-leg relegation play-off encounter with Coventry.

Meanwhile, speculation was rife that Bristol might attempt to lure Dwyer to the Memorial Ground. The World Cup-winning Australian tactician has no immediate plans to return to Sydney and a number of senior players at the West Country club are known to be dissatisfied with the part-time presence of their present coach, Alan Davies.

One of the most traumatising episodes in recent English rugby history, the Kevin Yates ear-biting affair, will take centre stage once again on Monday when the Bath prop's legal team announce whether or not they intend to lodge an appeal against the six-month ban imposed by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel 11 days ago.

Yates was suspended after being found guilty of biting Simon Fenn, the London Scottish flanker, during a Tetley's Bitter Cup tie at the Recreation Ground last month. He continues to protest his innocence but with an estimated legal bill of pounds 50,000 already against his name, he has come under pressure from senior Bath officials to cut his financial losses by accepting what many observers consider to be a punishment of extreme leniency.