Rugby Union: The success that took Rowell from Gosforth to glory

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The Independent Online
THE eyes are deep blue and friendly. There is humour there too. The same eyes, in more serious moments, can also wither captains of industry and world-class rugby players. Jack Rowell permanently lives in what he calls a state of 'divine discontent'. The man who took Gosforth to the Cup final in the Seventies and has since made Twickenham his second home with Bath, is a restless soul, in search of perfection. Very occasionally is he satisfied but such moments, like the exquisitely hit golf shot in an indifferent round, bring him back for more and provide him with the fulfilment and contentment he craves.

His achievements and character are worthy of careful study and recognition. Cup winners seven times in the last 10 years and League champions four times in the last six, Bath are in a class of their own. And, if there is any justice when the Whitbread Awards are presented this week, Rowell will be named coach of the year.

The management and organisational skills Rowell has brought to the workplace as chief executive of Golden Wonder and executive director of the holding company Dalgety plc have been applied with equal success to rugby coaching. Rowell maintains that organisation is the easy part. Management is infinitely more complex and challenging but much more satisfying. 'I have put a lot of time and effort into finding out what makes people tick,' Rowell says. He was at Gosforth with a teenaged Richard Breakey. 'He was potentially one of the most talented players I have worked with. . . But he had problems. I worked with him for hours at training sessions and spent almost as much time talking with him afterwards.' Breakey went on to play for Scotland.

It was with Gosforth that Rowell made his name, belatedly as a player, and then as coach. His late playing development was due to an injury sustained in his first week at Oxford University. He fell awkwardly on his neck and was told that he must never play again.

After several unsuccessful attempts to defy medical opinion, Rowell joined Gosforth, where his cussedness and a rigid regime of fitness training won him a place in the 1st XV. Good players were starting to arrive at Gosforth and Rowell's second-row partner was a young cub called Roger Uttley. 'I saw immediately that he was much too good a footballer to be wasting his talents at lock so I advised him to switch to the back row.'

Rowell's personality, his analytical mind and his ability to foresee and adapt to change, made him the natural choice as club captain and later as coach. By this time he had acquired some rare talent. Along with Uttley came Peter Dixon, Malcolm Young, Tony Roberts and the man around whom Rowell had decided to build his side, the flanker Dave Robinson.

The arrival of a national cup and the leagues which inevitably followed demanded a steelier approach and Rowell was just the man to provide it. Gosforth, with their sense of purpose and unity, became a force in the land.

The sense of belonging which carried Gosforth through adversity to triumph, Rowell has managed to instil at Bath. Again Rowell was fortunate in having a hard core of good players but in them and in so many of their successors, Rowell has seen another dimension and has offered them the opportunity to develop it. 'Of course winning is important but so is the manner in which victory is achieved.'

That philosophy was brought home after this season's league game at Kingsholm when Bath beat Gloucester by 20 points and the Bath players drew a stinging rebuke from Rowell. 'We did things in that game which we had agreed before hand we wouldn't do and that made me very annoyed.

'Always a chief, never an Indian, is what my wife is forever saying about me and it's true that I like to be in charge.' Rowell's imperial spirit may 'court power', but he has never abused it. He has become, in the view of many at Bath, indispensable to the club and fears have been expressed that when, eventually, he decides to go, he will be irreplaceable. 'That's not true,' is Rowell's response. 'When that time comes I can assure you that the right man will be in place to succeed me.'

But retirement hasn't even crossed his mind. Having contributed to Bath's success he is staying on to enjoy it. The thrill of watching the tactical subtleties of Stuart Barnes, the grace of Jeremy Guscott and the talents of players like Ben Clarke and Phil de Glanville is hard to resist. He would, he says, enjoy the challenge of coaching England but, in the first place, he hasn't been asked and even if he were, he couldn't afford the time to do it. 'I am content at Bath and until the time comes when I can see no further than two years into the future I'll be happy to remain as coach.'

For Rowell, and all who travel with him, both in business and in rugby, success is not a destination but a continuous journey.

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