Rugby Union: Rowell driven by force of logic: Chris Rea assesses the qualities of England's new man at the helm

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The Independent Online
THERE is the often-told tale of Derek White, the former Scottish back-row forward, who was never quite sure whether to be more afraid of telling his wife that he was attending another squad session under Jim Telfer or of telling Telfer that he wasn't. Often Mrs White was the softer option. While there are similarities in style and presentation between Telfer, now Scotland's director of rugby, and Jack Rowell, confirmed last Friday as England's new manager in succession to Geoff Cooke, there is the same absolute commitment and dedication to the game.

Rowell, as he has done throughout his years of almost unbroken success with Gosforth and Bath, will demand nothing less from his players. Both as a captain of industry and as coach of England's champion club, Rowell leads from the front and wherever he leads, he expects others to follow. There is no place in Rowell's world for shirkers or the uncommitted.

Like his predecessor, Rowell's satisfaction comes from his close association with the players and from his involvement at the sharp end of coaching. It is inconceivable that he would enjoy, any more than Cooke did, the passive role as a figurehead who announced his teams to the media before retiring to the stand to watch them train. It is therefore highly unlikely that Rowell would tolerate a situation in which he immersed himself in the administrative chores and allowed others to get on with the coaching.

In his mind, the job as manager will incorporate the duties as coach, which inevitably casts doubt on Dick Best's future with the national side. Best's position comes up for review soon, as does that of Mike Slemen, his assistant, and there seems certain to be changes in personnel before England leave for South Africa in May. Rowell will want his own team of coaches, the favourites being Peter Rossborough and Les Cusworth with whom he has worked successfully at A and B levels.

Less likely is a change in the captaincy which might be seriously damaging to team morale in the build-up to next year's World Cup. Rowell would have to be sure that there was a very much better alternative to Will Carling within the present squad before taking such a significant step, and apart from Brian Moore and Rob Andrew there are not many obvious candidates. Dean Richards has his supporters and, were Rowell to take the same gamble as Cooke did on his appointment as manager when he plucked Carling from the creche, he might opt for the hugely promising but as yet untested Kyran Bracken. But that is not Rowell's style. Bespectacled, white-haired, almost avuncular in appearance, there is a cool and calculating logic in all that he does.

Loyalty, a key word in Cooke's reign, will have its place in Rowell's regime but not at any price, and those who think that the resurrection of Stuart Barnes's international career is now a formality may be disappointed. Yet much of what Rowell has done for Bath he will bring to England.

During his 14-year spell at the Recreation Ground, the club have been at the forefront of change. They have been innovative and imaginative, one of the first in the country to recognise the need for fitness training and dietary control under expert guidance. And it was at Rowell's insistence that his mainline kickers, Barnes and Jon Webb, sought help from Dave Alred, whose tuition played such a crucial part in that most spectacular of cup finals two seasons ago when Barnes's drop goal in the last second of extra-time beat Harlequins. Just what effect Rowell's departure will have on the club remains to be seen but England's gain is unquestionably a grievous loss to Bath.

(Photograph omitted)

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