Rugby Union: Cooke feels heat but bears no grudges: England manager blames the pressure of work and nothing more sinister over decision to stand down

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The Independent Online
THE MASK slipped only momentarily. Geoff Cooke, having lately and peremptorily resigned as England manager, could have wished that those on the Rugby Football Union who complained about him had done so to his face.

But otherwise he was a model of diplomacy, good grace and political correctness when he gave his explanatory press conference yesterday while the England players were training at The Stoop for Saturday's game against France in Paris.

It was, Cooke insisted, the unrelenting - in fact increasing - pressure of work and home that had persuaded him into carrying through what he had decided during the month following England's victory over New Zealand last November.

The seven RFU committee members identified by the Evening Standard - Messrs Addison, Brook, Easby, Grieveson, Lee, Motum and Richardson - as making it impossible for Cooke to continue were effectively exonerated, even though the vote in his favour when he was reappointed in September was by a majority of just one.

'I'm going to disappoint you because I want to say at the outset that there is nothing sinister either in my decision to stand down at the end of the Five Nations or in the timing of the announcement,' Cooke said. 'Some of the speculation that has appeared is nonsense.'

On the other hand, it is clear that Cooke found it difficult reconciling the sloth of RFU democracy with his more decisive, managerial preference. Anonymous and rather ordinary committee types who found him - and by extension his players - becoming overmighty conveniently chose to ignore that under his care England had enjoyed unprecedented success.

In fact this was one England manager everyone - well, nearly everyone - wanted to carry on. No Graham Taylor he, Cooke chose and could afford to be magnanimous. 'It's no secret that we've had our differences from time to time, but that's surely only to be expected when you are doing a job for people,' he said.

'The committee's job is to run the policy side and make decisions; it's up to us to argue those things out. A lot could have been avoided with better communication but quite honestly suggestions that I've been hounded out are absolute nonsense. The sad thing is that some of the people who were apparently being critical would never say these things to my face or approach me about it. In the North we believe in calling a spade a shovel, looking people in the eye and saying they are wrong.'

Cooke is chief executive of the National Coaching Foundation in Leeds, where his return will come as blessed relief. After the Wales game at Twickenham on 19 March, there will be no more endless motorway journeys to attend games in which he is not particularly interested nor flights to London for meetings in which he is even less interested.

'I had more or less made up my mind before Christmas. I was getting a bit tired of the travelling and living in a goldfish bowl. I thought if I'd gone after the New Zealand game it would have been very selfish of me and thought if I waited for the championship I would get back my hunger and enthusiasm. It hasn't happened.'

All the leading contenders for the succession - the England A manager and coach, Jack Rowell and Peter Rossborough; the England selector John Elliott - were at The Stoop in their present capacities yesterday.

An emergency meeting of the RFU coaching sub-committee has been called for next Thursday and so the union may be able to finalise its choice when the full committee meets on 18 March, the eve of the Wales game.

(Photograph omitted)