Rugby Union: Best comes off worst to player power at Quins

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Harlequins, standard bearers of English rugby's traditional Corinthian values for more decades than anyone cares to remember, last night dragged the game towards a bleak new era of football-style job insecurity by sacking their director of rugby and former England coach, Dick Best.

Although senior Quins executives denied the charge yesterday, their decision to sever links was largely forced upon them after a virulent outbreak of player discontent left Best without a dressing-room mandate to continue. A number of leading players, including Will Carling, the former England captain, complained to management that the coach had tried too hard to live up to his nickname of "Sulphuric". Indeed, one said last night: "It's our awards dinner this evening and now that the news has been confirmed, we have something extra to celebrate."

Many, however, will consider the action of the Quins board to have been far more poisonous than anything Best inflicted on his squad through his abrasive approach to man management. Best's crime appears to have been his insistence on compulsory daytime training - a development viewed with some horror by those players with lucrative jobs in the City.

A club statement read: "Best's position has been terminated as a result of differences over playing policies." However, one senior management source was nearer the mark when he said: "On the one hand you have an abuse of power by Dick and on the other a case of player power. The reasons for his departure fall somewhere between the two."

Best, who will maintain a slender link with the club he loves by taking on a role as "consultant on playing matters", refused to shed further light on the matter last night. "The terms of my stepping aside involve me not commenting on the decision," he said, mindful of the lucrative pay-off to cover the remainder of his 10-year rolling contract - thought to have been the most secure deal ever negotiated by a coach in any code of football when it was finalised last year.

He follows John Hall, the director of rugby at Bath, and Mark Ring, who held a similar position at West Hartlepool, on professional rugby's newly formed scrapheap, but he is unlikely to remain there for very long. Despite a life-long commitment to the swanky Londoners - he joined as a player in 1973, captained them to a John Player Cup semi-final 11 years later and then coached them to Pilkington Cup glory in 1988 - he will have little hesitation in accepting one of the highly paid posts that are certain to be offered over the next few weeks.

Andy Keast, the assistant coach to Best and a member of the Lions backroom staff in South Africa this summer, is still in place at The Stoop. His long-term future is yet to be determined but if the suggestions prove correct that Zinzan Brooke, the No 8 now nearing the end of an illustrious All Black career, is about to take over, he may not consider it worth his while staying on.

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