Rugby Union: Deano moves in as Tigers sack Dwyer

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The Independent Online
LEICESTER last night replaced a legend with an icon, sacking Bob Dwyer as director of rugby and installing the Welford Road favourite Dean Richards as first-team manager "in the interim", according to the former England No 8.

Dwyer's departure is not such a surprise, despite his insisting yesterday: "In my opinion it has not been an unsuccessful time for Leicester. I am disappointed to be leaving after a happy and, I believe, successful stay."

However, the forthright Australian had become increasingly unhappy as a season of promise turned sour. Leicester lost to Pau in the quarter- finals of the European Cup, to Saracens in the Tetley's Bitter Cup and their pretensions to success in the league have suffered a number of blows, culminating in a Premiership defeat at Gloucester a fortnight ago.

Rumours of player unrest were further fuelled when Dwyer dropped the England wing Austin Healey on to the bench for the Premiership match against London Irish. This followed reports of a row between the two in training. At the time, Dwyer said Healey had a calf strain and was not fully fit. Healey claimed he was 100 per cent fit and available to play.

After the Gloucester match, Dwyer sounded on the brink of resignation when he said: "I am completely disillusioned. I can't think of anything to say. It's quite clear we are not good enough. I figure if a coach is not producing the goods he should look elsewhere."

The clincher probably came a couple of days later when the Leicester chief executive, Peter Wheeler, showed how fully professional the game has become when, borrowing from football-speak, he gave Dwyer the dreaded vote of confidence.

The Tigers hooker, Richard Cockerill, was quick to deny that player power had a part in the 57-year-old's dismissal. "His departure has nothing to do with the players," Cockerill insisted after breaking off from England's training session. "It's a board decision. I am disappointed and surprised. Bob was good for Leicester in a number of ways and I am not aware of much criticism being aimed in his direction. He is a very, very good coach."

Even Healey, who was moved out to the wing from scrum-half by Dwyer, was magnanimous enough to offer: "He has revived my England career because I am playing on the wing against the Welsh on Saturday." And Healey played down the dispute and the role it might have played in Dwyer leaving, adding: "I don't think a professional board like Leicester's would take into account a slight disagreement on the playing field. I respected him as a coach, Bob improved the skill levels of everyone at the club."

Dwyer, an electrical engineer by profession, has an incomparable coaching record. In 10 years, from 1987 to 1995, as Australia coach he guided them to the 1991 World Cup and by the end of his time at the helm they had won 46 of their 73 matches in his charge. Defeat against England in the quarter-finals of the 1995 World Cup, followed by a 2-0 Bledisloe Cup setback against New Zealand a couple of months later, sealed his fate.

He then had a spell with the fashionable Racing Club de Paris, who were unfortunately relegated at the end of that season. In July 1996 he took up the reins at Welford Road and at one point Leicester were in a position to win an extraordinary treble of European Cup, League Championship and Pilkington Cup. They reached the Heineken Cup final only to lose to Brive, fell apart in the League and finally scraped to success in the Pilkington Cup, beating Sale in a lacklustre final.

One of Dwyer's most notable successes was the signing of South African stand-off Joel Stransky and since Leicester have also parted company with Dwyer's assistant, Duncan Hall, a Queenslander, there is every chance that the talented Springbok will have the chance to realise his ambition to coach.

The talismanic Richards, holder of 48 England caps, said: "I will be doing some hands-on coaching," but he then intimated that a full-time coaching appointment would be made. "It is a huge challenge for me. I am hoping I won't be able to find a place for myself in the side."