Rugby Union: Rowell and Dwyer team up at Bristol

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The Independent Online
BRISTOL'S LONG-SUFFERING rugby aficionados prefer not to think about their club's first double whammy of the summer; after all, the combination of relegation and bankruptcy is as bad as it gets. Happily, the West Countrymen were able to celebrate a more agreeable one-two yesterday as they named a brace of former international coaches, Jack Rowell and Bob Dwyer, in an extraordinarily high-powered team charged with restoring top flight action to the Memorial Ground.

It was without doubt the managerial coup of the year and quite possibly of the decade; in footballing terms, it was as if Terry Venables and Arsene Wenger had agreed to pool their considerable talents in an effort to rescue, say, Manchester City from the depths of despond. "We've got the money and we've got the expertise, so there are no excuses for failure," said Phil Adams, the recently retired lock forward who acted as the players' representative during the dark days of receivership.

The new Bristol will be bankrolled by Malcolm Pearce, a multi-millionaire local businessman with a self-confessed addiction to "the funny-shaped ball", and feature Rowell, the former England coach, as a non-executive director, and Dwyer, the eminence grise behind Australia's World Cup triumph in 1991, in the more hands-on role of director of rugby. Nick de Scossa has replaced Jeff Lewis as chief executive.

As ever with Bristol, there was a nasty little smudge on the clean slate. Two of the club's few remaining prize assets, the veteran scrum-half Robert Jones and the exciting young No 8 Jim Brownrigg, were being pursued by Cardiff and Bath respectively. Both were expected to jump ship.

Paul Burke, the Irish international stand-off elected as captain for next season, was hopeful that a majority of the existing squad would remain on board. "We haven't been paid for seven weeks and the pressure has been growing on the guys with mortgages and families to think about, but I'm willing to stick around to find out what is on the table and I think most of my colleagues will do likewise," he said.

What goes on the table is likely to be a whole lot less than the existing squad have been used to; De Scossa, a local second row forward made good in the even more ruthless world of big business, insisted Pearce's money would not be frittered away with abandon. "The club had 30 people driving around in company cars last season and the players' mobile phone bill was close to pounds 60,000," he said. "That sort of thing is clearly unsustainable. Rugby as a whole is heading for a brick wall financially and we want to put ourselves ahead of the game by running a viable operation."

Roughly translated, De Scossa's comments indicated a move towards semi- professional status for all but the most senior members of the squad. Pearce, a close associate of Rowell's during the latter's glory years at Bath, has never been wholly convinced by the merits of full-time rugby and intends to use his extensive network of business contacts to place his players with sympathetic employers.

Rowell had originally been earmarked for the rugby directorship but, at the last minute, he decided he could not afford the time away from his burgeoning business portfolio. However, his appearance on the new board, where he joins the Bristol Rovers chairman, Geoff Dunford, will still be of immense interest to those tribally motivated supporters who prefer to remember him as the Great Satan rather than a great coach.

According to Pearce, though, both Bath and Gloucester have bent over backwards to help their local rivals through the trauma of the last few weeks. "They've even offered to loan us players," he said. "To my way of thinking, that sort of supportive attitude makes rugby what it is. I've been watching Bath since I was five but my passion is for the game rather than a single club."

Pearce declined to discuss the extent of his stake, either in terms of cash or time. "I'm committed to Bristol for at least as long as it takes them to beat Bath here at the Memorial Ground," he smiled. Judging by recent results, rugby's latest investor has just talked himself into a job for life.

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