Rugby Union: Cunningham resigns before Bristol can dismiss him

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ROB CUNNINGHAM jumped before he was pushed and resigned as Bristol's coach yesterday. The former Bath and Scotland B hooker, threatened with expulsion by senior committee men over a clash of ideas, took the decision prior to a meeting with the players. The whole affair can be regarded as a victory for rugby's dinosaurs.

While Cunningham had just helped guide the team to sixth place in the First Division, their best finish since the Courage leagues were introduced six years ago, he was charged with being in breach of a Bristol rule stating that a member can be expelled if found 'guilty of acting in a manner deemed inconsistent with the interests of the club'.

In the event, Cunningham saved Bristol the trouble. 'There was criticism coming from a source within the management team, with whom I had raised a number of issues about communication and consultation,' Cunningham said. 'They feared I may have been the focus of a revolution, though that was not the intention.'

Cunningham left Richmond to join Bristol in November 1990 under the then director of coaching, Colin McFadyean, who was subsequently sacked from his pounds 25,000-a-year post and not replaced. 'Now I'm waiting for the phone to ring,' Cunningham said.

Derek Eves, the Bristol captain, attended the lengthy meeting on Wednesday evening during which a number of senior players supported Cunningham. He has also received backing from the other members of the club's coaching panel, who put their names to a statement of support and will be considering their own futures at the Memorial Ground.

'The coaching team were extremely professional and so was the approach of the players,' Cunningham said, 'but we were moving at a different pace to the committee and I think it actually came down to self-preservation. They believed we could open the lid on the box and reveal what they've been doing here all these years.'

A statement from the club yesterday said: 'We are sorry this episode has come to pass.' They may be sorrier still. 'We've been building nicely,'

Cunningham said, 'and we'd also signed a number of key players in readiness for next season who may not be joining Bristol now. I think the club have shot themselves in the foot but it is still my greatest wish that all the effort we have put in over the past three years should not be wasted.'

WALES (v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo, tomorrow): M Rayer (Cardiff); S Hill (Cardiff), R Bidgood (Newport), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), W Proctor (Llanelli); A Davies (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli); M Griffiths (Cardiff), A Lamberton (Llanelli), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), P Davies (Llanelli), G Llewellyn (Neath, capt), M Perego (Llanelli), E Lewis (Llanelli), L Jones (LLanelli). Replacements: R Howley (Bridgend), N Boobyer (Llanelli), R McBryde (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Arnold (Swansea), S Davies (Swansea).