Rugby Union: Bristol upgrade caretaker coaches after Ashton slips net

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The Independent Online
BRIAN ASHTON spent his playing days as a tough-minded terrier of a scrum- half rather than an elusive stand-off with a part share in Phil Bennett's treasure chest of rugby trickery. He did possess a decent sidestep, though, and he dusted it off yesterday to escape the eager clutches of Bristol, who wanted the unemployed sage of mid-Somerset to mastermind an apparently hopeless eleventh-hour attempt to salvage some Premiership credibility.

Ashton was wined, dined, courted and propositioned by the fallen giants of the West Country game, but they could not quite manage to sweet-talk him. Yesterday, Bristol announced that their existing caretaker coaches, Darryl Jones and David Egerton, would continue on a permanent, part-time basis.

"We had more than 20 applications for the coaching position, some of them from the southern hemisphere," said the Bristol chief executive, Jeff Lewis. "However, we have been pleased with the attitude and willingness shown by Darryl and David and we are happy that they constitute a team for the future."

Lewis made no reference to Ashton, the former Bath tactician who resigned his full-time coaching post with the Irish national team after last month's Five Nations defeat by Scotland. He was a prime target for Bristol, though, and they will be bitterly disappointed at their failure to negotiate a big-name successor to Alan Davies, who was sacked three weeks ago.

Not that Jones, who will take on the role of chief coach with Egerton as his assistant, is entirely lacking in the track record department. The popular Welshman guided Neath to only their second national title in 1996 and has at least generated some much-needed enthusiasm among the dispirited Bristol playing staff since pitching up at the Memorial Ground in January.

Meanwhile, the cup finalists Saracens will unveil their latest high-profile signing on Thursday. They have been searching for an outside-half to replace Michael Lynagh, who retires in May, and after negotiations with Neil Jenkins, the Welsh Lion, and inquiries about Hennie le Roux, the former Springbok, they have looked on the far side of the Channel.

Thomas Castaignede, the current French stand-off, is out because he would cost too much, so the obvious candidates are Alain Penaud, of Brive, and his extravagantly gifted Argentinian club-mate, Lisandro Arbizu.

Clive Woodward and his fellow England selectors were checking on the fitness of Lawrence Dallaglio, Kyran Bracken, Phil Vickery and David Rees before naming their side to face Ireland in this weekend's Five Nations finale at Twickenham. The Irish will be without the centre Rob Henderson, who damaged a groin muscle during Wasps' cup semi-final victory over Sale. Mark McCall, of London Irish, steps up.