Rugby Union: Rowell gives Cusworth a a key role: Coach promoted

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The Independent Online
LES CUSWORTH yesterday made the final step from poacher to gamekeeper when, as anticipated, he was elevated alongside Dick Best to form the England coaching partnership under the new manager, Jack Rowell. He has replaced Mike Slemen, who has been relegated to coach of the England A team.

The former outside-half will be well placed to sympathise with anyone he, as a selector, should drop, since it happened to him four times during a nine-year international career which ended in 1988 when he became one of the first casualties of the Geoff Cooke regime.

Cusworth was in the Leicester sides who won the cup from 1979-81 and the league in 1988, but ended with only 12 caps, a derisory figure for the most instinctive attacking player of his generation. English selectors' compulsive fear of failure during the Eighties meant the last thing they wanted was an attacking, unorthodox stand-off. The inevitable result was results as negative as the rugby that produced them.

Small wonder that he has been known to criticise England selectors, in view of which it will be fascinating to see where his England go from here. Cusworth has been on a fast track since becoming Peter Rossborough's coaching assistant with the A team this season after coaching the students and World Sevens squad. Rossborough may now become manager of the As in succession to Rowell.

Yesterday Cusworth preferred to throw tributes at Rowell rather than enter into detail about his intentions - though whatever the nomenclature it is crystal clear that the real head coach will be the manager himself. Best has in effect become the forward coach.

'I'm looking forward to continue working with Jack,' Cusworth said. 'He helps players make the best of themselves and the England side against Wales contained many who were in his England second team only a couple of years ago.'

John Elliott is retained as a selector with Rowell, Best and Cusworth, the one change being a modest early expression of the power Rowell now wields. He would not have accepted the managership if it been anything other than a hands-on role with primary responsibility for playing matters. 'I will have an overall strategic imput,' Rowell said yesterday.

Graham Smith, chairman of the Rugby Football Union's coaching sub-committee, said Rowell's terms of reference were similar to Cooke's but in fact they are similar to when Cooke was first appointed in 1987 and before he stepped back from coaching after the 1991 World Cup.

This subordinates not only Cusworth but also Best. Rowell has evidently been impressed with what he has seen of Cusworth this season while he was a frustrated, hands-off A team manager - more impressed than with Slemen, who was Rowell's assistant when he was still coach of the As. 'We are on the same wavelength,' Rowell said. 'Justifiably he has come a long way fast.'

If Cusworth can graft the expansive rugby for which he was celebrated on to England's 'awesome' (his word) forward play, Rowell would be well pleased, because it would mean England's play had at last moved on for next year's World Cup. The new team's first task comes on Saturday week when they pick a squad to tour South Africa in May.

Simon Geoghegan, the Ireland wing who plays for London Irish, has registered with the English champions, Bath, for next season.

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