Rugby Union: Rowell leaves red faces at Twickenham

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The Independent Online
Jack Rowell, the most successful club coach in the history of the English game and no mean performer at Test level, yesterday called time on his three and a half year career at the helm of the national team and left those Rugby Football Union officials responsible for a shabby and squalid high summer denouement to face the consequences of their actions. The chastened inhabitants of Twickenham's corridors of power must now conjure a replacement from thin air, having failed to find one in the shadowy spaces behind Rowell's back.

Rowell informed leading figures on the national playing committee yesterday afternoon of his decision to relinquish his position with effect from Sunday week, when his current part-time contract expires.

Almost exactly 48 hours previously Ian McGeechan, the former Scotland coach who guided the Lions to victory in South Africa in June, had rejected an official offer to fill Rowell's shoes, leaving his Twickenham tempters almost knock-kneed with embarrassment.

Having failed to lure their preferred choice and lost their incumbent as a direct result of their hole-in-the-corner tactics - it would be stretching credulity to suggest that the approach to McGeechan did not hasten Rowell's departure, whatever diplomatic face the Twickenham spin-doctors attempt to apply to the situation - the RFU find themselves in the prickliest of positions. England are scheduled to play 13 internationals over the next 10 months, starting with gentle autumn run-outs against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, and unless Bob Dwyer, the former Wallaby World Cup-winning coach can be persuaded out of the remaining year of his contract at Leicester, they will be forced to place their faith in an untried, untested rookie.

Dwyer was sounded out during last season's Five Nations' Championship - a tournament Rowell came within 20 slovenly minutes against the French of winning in Grand Slam style - but there was no follow-up. Instead, the RFU went after McGeechan and Graham Henry, the hot-streak tactician behind the Super 12 champions, Auckland. Rowell was fully aware of both initiatives and opted to keep his counsel, but private conversations with colleagues and acquaintances on Monday left them in no doubt as to the depth of his anger and frustration.

Phil de Glanville, the Bath centre appointed by Rowell as England captain nine months ago, was saddened but not remotely surprised by yesterday's news. "He's been thinking this over for some time," he said. "He's a shrewd man." Like Rowell, De Glanville diplomatically kept the lid on his feelings but along with most of the England squad, he quietly articulated his disgust at his mentors' treatment on more than one occasion during the summer.

The RFU will almost certainly attempt to explain Rowell's departure by citing his unwillingness to compromise a spectacularly lucrative management consultancy career by taking on a full-time role with England and, indeed, Rowell may seek the quiet life by following that particular line himself, at least in public. But as one England insider pointed out on Monday before McGeechan's decision had been announced: "There is nothing to stop Jack combining the two halves of his life. That is not the issue. The issue lies at Twickenham with the people who have undermined him. They know who they are."

If Fran Cotton, Bill Beaumont and the rest of the new RFU hierarchy decide against reopening negotiations with Dwyer or, indeed, Henry or McGeechan, they may opt to appoint a senior and well-respected rugby figure as manager and pair him with a young, enthusiastic coach. Roger Uttley, a member of Beaumont's 1980 Grand Slam-winning side and a key figure in the coaching team that led England to the World Cup Final six years ago, would be an obvious candidate for the management role.

Among the coaching contenders, Clive Woodward of Bath would bring the most visionary qualities to a job crying out for an ideas man while Richard Hill, who played under Rowell at Bath before starting a successful coaching stint at Gloucester, is highly thought of in RFU circles for his deep commitment and strong work ethic.