HAS the cult of the manager finally come to English rugby union in the form of Ian McGeechan? His takeover of the top post at Northampton signals both a confirmation of a modern, businesslike approach to management and a stepping-stone to the increasingly professional top end.
After watching a penalty-dominated pre-season lukewarm-up against Coventry, the quiet charisma was turned up full volume. He had been impressed with the set-up and the principle of growing their own players.
That includes training coaches to tap back into local feeder clubs, with whom relations were at one time strained. His becoming part of the community extends to moving home from Leeds and putting his children into local schools.
The job is open-ended and believed to be worth about pounds 45,000 a year, but still allows McGeechan to advise Scotland coach Dougie Morgan and to undertake other management and outside roles.
No specific targets have to be met. 'My main aim is to get it right with the players, develop a whole team environment and achieve consistency,' he says. 'Then you need two or three things to go right at crucial times.'
And new players? 'If there are players within striking distance, I hope they will give Northampton consideration.'
As an international player and manager of both Scotland and the Lions, McGeechan's credentials are impeccable, his authority a magnet for potential recruits. When the revolution started at Franklins Gardens in 1988 the club had an annual turnover of pounds 100,000: this year they are forecasting a profit of pounds 100,000 on a turnover of pounds 1m.
By the end of 1995, an investment programme of pounds 2.4m will be complete with only pounds 170,000 of loans - interest-free from the local council. They own their ground, have a 125-year lease on three more adjoining pitches, have re-established links with the local business community, and inspire more civic pride - as well as larger headlines in the local paper - than the football team. The new debenture seats and hospitality boxes could be a good investment.
Northampton: Try Pountney; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 5. Coventry: Penalty Lakey.
Northampton: S Juds; S Webster (F Packman, 41), R MacNaughton, M Foster, C Moir; P Grayson, M Dawson (B Taylor, 36); M Volland, P Roworth, C Allen, N Edwards, M Bayfield, P Walton, T Rodber (capt), A Pountney.
Coventry: R Gee (P Miles, 68); S Barden, M Curtis, N Thomson, S Allen; M Lakey, S Dowson; G Tregilgas (capt), D Addleton, R Hardwick, A Gulliver, R Mackie, L Croft, K Hickey, J Horobin.
Referee: P Murgatroyd (E Midlands).