Rugby Union: Too bad for a club left hanging on a Dwyer

Chris Rea says it was inevitable that Leicester's coach had to pay for failure
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT WAS on the drive home from Welford Road last Saturday, listening to Radio 5 Live, that I realised that Bob Dwyer was in deep trouble and that his days were numbered as Leicester's coach. So, too, were Willie Anderson's but his plight in the immediate aftermath of Leicester's win over his team, London Irish, was much less obvious.

The Tigers had been thoroughly unimpressive in victory against the then bottom club.With the gap between Leicester and the league leaders well nigh unbridgeable the club were condemned to playing out the rest of the season with no prospect of winning a major trophy and supporters accustomed to the big occasion were displaying classic withdrawal symptoms.

Not unnaturally, then, Nick Mullins, Sport on Five's reporter at the match, suggested to Dwyer that this would not go down as one of the most memorable seasons in Leicester's history and what, precisely, did he plan to do about it. Whereupon Dwyer blew his top. "It is that kind of ridiculous question," he spluttered, "which gives me the collywobbles." He proceeded to bewilder his interrogator with a raft of irrelevant statistics in what was a fruitless exercise in damage limitation. Leicester, he said, had only won one championship in 10 years and why on earth should this be their year to do it again?

Had Mullins recovered his composure sufficiently he might reasonably have pointed out to Dwyer that Leicester's expectation level had risen in direct proportion to the size of the salary they are paying their coach and to the club's annual wage bill which is conservatively estimated at around pounds 2.5m this year. Furthermore, that as a public company those in charge of its affairs were accountable to the shareholders and failure in this increasingly harsh environment was not an option. Dwyer is an enlightened coach and an intelligent man. He can be prickly but when he first arrived, prickliness combined with a clear vision of what he wanted were the qualities he and Leicester needed.

The club's ruthlessness in dealing with employees whose shelf life was felt to be over had been starkly demonstrated in the brutal dismissal of Tony Russ, and Dwyer realised that he would have to set the ground rules from day one. His success with Australia and, more important, the manner in which it had been achieved appeared to make him the ideal man to oversee Leicester's continuing prosperity in the new age of professionalism. When he made the odd bizarre decision, such as the signing of Waisale Serevi, no one thought to question it because the acquisition of Joel Stransky and Fritz van Heerden were inspired moves.

Even Leicester's faltering start to the season was overlooked as the team showed a marked improvement towards the end of the year. But in recent weeks it has all gone wrong. Dwyer's outburst against the tactics and playing style of Newcastle was greeted with dismay in some quarters and hilarity in others where Leicester's remorselessly narrow game under Dean Richards' leadership remained a vivid memory. Sour grapes, pots and black kettles came to mind.

And this, perhaps, pinpoints Dwyer's failure at Welford Road and explains the club's decision to dismiss him. Despite all his efforts to persuade Leicester to change their ways and adapt to the new era, Dwyer clearly couldn't convince enough players that he held the key to their future success. Not only did the power of the forwards wane dramatically but with a few dazzling exceptions the back play also deteriorated. Will Greenwood hasn't flourished under Dwyer's regime and there have been obvious difficulties with dominant individuals such as Austin Healey. Once the rot set in following Leicester's cup defeat by Saracens it was only a matter of time before either Dwyer himself or the club came to the inescapable conclusion about his fate.

If it is unfortunate for Dwyer it is equally sad for the game in England. Leicester have now discarded two highly respected coaches in as many years and if Richards and his back-room team should be found wanting then questions will surely be asked of the executive staff and the way in which the club is run. Of all the clubs in the top two divisions of the Allied Dunbar leagues, Leicester alone are financially viable. Even so, they are not at present financially sound. The share issue raised pounds 1.8m, which was held as a triumph but the annual outgoings are far in excess of that. There is unlikely to be the prospect of European competition for English clubs next season and by way of compensation the Premiership clubs are seeking to dispense with relegation and to increase the size of the leagues from 24 to 28. But English Rugby Partnership is just that - a joint venture between the clubs and the Rugby Football Union and before any such change can be made it would require the approval of both parties.

The clubs cannot seriously believe that the RFU would agree to a proposal being driven by men like Sir John Hall, whose apparent aim is to take control of the game in England. The refusal of Premiership clubs to attend Fran Cotton's presentation of his vision for the future at Twickenham today says it all. Strap yourselves in for a fight to the death.