Rugby Union: Dwyer's focus stays on passion

Even for Bristol's well-travelled Australian coach this has been a bizarre week.
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The Independent Online
LOWLY WAKEFIELD after all, then. Not Leicester in front of 15,000 confused Welford Roaders, or England or the All Blacks or the Interstellar Barbarians. Six short days ago, Bristol were confidently talking themselves into a whole new stratosphere as Nick de Scossa, their smart new thruster of a chief executive, set about rattling the Twickenham establishment to its pin-striped foundations with his in-your-face threats of law suits, buy-outs and ethically challenged leaps into the top flight of the Allied Dunbar Premiership. But Wakefield it is, as it should be. The world remains on its axis for the time being.

Still, it has been a funny old week, not least for Bristol's director of rugby. Bob Dwyer thought he had seen pretty much everything during his two momentous decades as a coach: he had visited rugby heaven in the company of the Ella brothers, spent years trying to tell David Campese how to play, won a World Cup with Australia, been frustrated to the point of exasperation by the bow-tied bon viveurs of Racing Club de Paris and guided Leicester to a Heineken Cup final before being bizarrely sacked for his trouble. But no, he had never experienced anything quite like this.

"It's been interesting," he admitted. "Of course, I had known all about the takeover negotiations with London Scottish for some while, but it was my firm opinion that it should remain absolutely confidential until we were at least fairly sure that we were going ahead with the deal. Any speculation would have been very unsettling for the Bristol squad and the last thing a coach needs is a group of players worrying themselves silly about their job security, or rather, a perceived lack of job security.

"When the club finally went public about its plans, the players were indeed deeply unsettled by what they saw as the possible ramifications. Suddenly, they were thinking: `With all these London Scottish blokes coming in, where do I stand?' And I sympathised with them. But I also told them straight. I said: `Look, it's the same in all walks of life, but it's particularly true in professional sport. Your future depends entirely on your own performance'.

"If you show yourself to be a good player with a good attitude, you'll stay in a job. That's the bottom line.

"If you expect to spend part of your working life in a job that pays well above the average, as rugby and other pro sports do, then it's fairly obvious that you, in turn, will be expected to perform above the average. In my book, that is a fundamental. Just because there may be something new and unexpected in the equation suddenly, it doesn't mean that the basics have changed.

"As far as I'm concerned - and, indeed, as far as the players should be concerned - nothing has altered. I don't expect a squad of average ability to play Test-class rugby, but I do expect them to concentrate on their work, show complete commitment and get on with it with a minimum of fuss."

For the record, Dwyer does not expect Bristol to fast-track themselves into Premiership One this season. "If the buy-out of London Scottish goes ahead, it will be a perfectly normal business transaction," he said. "But I'd say there was only a one or two per cent chance of it happening in mid-campaign.

"The odds must be 100-1 on that it will all be done in the close season, which is why the playing side of the club, myself included, has to maintain its focus and stick to the targets and priorities agreed at the start of September. Namely, to win the Premiership Two title and guarantee promotion."

So far, so straightforward. Except that the peculiarities of the present situation pressed in on Dwyer himself during last weekend's Tetley's Bitter Cup defeat by London Irish, who scored four unanswered tries and generally outclassed their hosts in a one-sided first half. Perhaps because the paucity of his side's performance sat so uncomfortably with the sharp, go-getting poses so publicly struck by De Scossa and the owner of the club, Malcolm Pearce, the coach dished out what Phil Adams, the team manager, described as a "pretty volcanic rollicking". Certainly, it was sufficiently explosive to stoke the Bristol fires.

"I can't stand people who give in; I find the very thought of capitulation abhorrent," said Dwyer, by way of explaining his sudden apoplexy in the face of acute embarrassment.

"I don't care so much about winning or losing - people think I'm bullshitting when I say this, but it's true - as I care about players trying to win, because my experience tells me that a team used to giving it everything will win more than its fair share. We discovered a great deal about ourselves last Sunday, both good and bad.

"There is nothing so common in this world as unfulfilled potential and it's a frustrating thing to witness. I also know that nowhere in sport did success ever come before hard work.

"My five months at Bristol tell me that we are looking at a lot of hard work. But I have no doubt at all that this club has all the right parameters in place to achieve the success it desires: the financial support, the stadium, the local playing population, the crowd base. There is such a strong rugby background here; unlike other clubs, such as Saracens, we're not looking for converts. We're just trying to bring people back to the flock."

Had Bristol completed their lightning boardroom strike, bought London Scottish for a cool million and headed up to Leicester this afternoon with the blessing of the Rugby Football Union, Dwyer would have relished his return to Welford Road. As it is, he must make do with the more prosaic challenge of Wakefield, whose own Premiership Two campaign is going more pear-shaped by the week.

"It's the game we've always been scheduled to play, so we get out there and play it," said the coach. "It's been a strange few days, though, and there is no getting away from the fact that some players have been knocked a little off balance. I reckon we'll find out by 3.40 this afternoon just how well we've coped with a unique situation. If, come half-time, we clearly haven't coped that well, I might have to indulge in some more shouting."

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