Rugby Union: Hall pays the price for failure at Bath

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The Independent Online
The bleak realities of professional rugby left their mark on one of the outstanding figures in the English game yesterday when John Hall, world-class flanker and champion team manager, lost his pounds 60,000-a-year post at Bath. No one at the Recreation Ground would confirm whether he had jumped or been pushed, but there was no doubt that Hall had paid the price of failure.

Less than 72 hours after Bath's Pilkington Cup demise at the hands of Leicester, their director of rugby became the first big name on rugby's managerial scrapheap. He will not be the last. After a century or more of amateurism, financial freedom has thrust the sport into a whole new ball game, the rules of which are very different from those in force less than a year ago.

Tony Swift, the Bath chief executive and a long-time playing colleague and close friend of Hall's, last night refused to discuss the precise nature of yesterday's boardroom deliberations. But he admitted: "This has probably been the worst day of my working life. An essential part of any job is the enjoyment you derive from it. I can safely say that I haven't enjoyed this episode one little bit."

However, he continued: "It is imperative that decisions are taken in the best long-term interests of the club. I have enormous respect for the things John achieved at Bath, but now is the time to make the most of the future lying before us."

It is the second time in less than two months that Bath, league and cup winners last season but struggling this time round, have lost a key back- room figure. Last month, Brian Ashton quit as chief coach, citing frustration with the management set-up. Reports of a personality clash with Hall were never convincingly repudiated.

Swift said that new coaching appointments would soon be announced. The new coaching set-up, under the command of Andy Robinson, will include Nigel Redman, the long-serving former England lock forward.

More intriguing, though, will be the arrival of Clive Woodward, one of the most imaginative tactical brains in the British game. The former Leicester and Lions centre quit his post with London Irish before Christmas and has been seen regularly at Bath since Ashton's departure.

Yesterday, he confirmed that he had agreed terms with Bath, emphasising that he would be no more than a member of the coaching team. If, however, Bath decided to appoint a new director of rugby, Woodward would be an obvious candidate.

Phil de Glanville, the Bath and England captain, confessed to a feeling of "deep surprise" at Hall's downfall as he arrived for an international squad session at Marlow yesterday. Jon Sleightholme, his club-mate on the England right wing, agreed. "I'm shocked. There was no indication of this when the players met yesterday morning," he said.