Andrew refused a delay for report on Ashton's future

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The Independent Online

Arrivals and departures of coaches may not yet rival those of football but, even so, rugby union increasingly has the look of a bus terminus. It is by no means certain that Brian Ashton will retain the role of head coach of England, despite the fact that the convincing victory over Ireland at Twickenham last Saturday edged them into second finishing place in the Six Nations Championship.

Before preparing his latest review of the state of the England union, Rob Andrew, the Rugby Football Union's elite director of rugby, had a discussion with Ashton yesterday. Their comparison of notes would have been interesting. Also of note is that Andrew wanted to delay the delivery of his report to the management board, a request that was rejected out of hand.

The 14 board members are impatient enough as it is and, although Ashton has his supporters, there is a view at Twickenham that very little has changed since Andrew's last critique, on the World Cup in France where England also finished runners-up. Rightly or wrongly England are looking enviously at Wales who, with a much smaller pool of players and less financial clout, have won their second Grand Slam in four years.

Andrew now has a week to finalise his review before presenting it to the board next Wednesday, after which a decision will be made on Ashton's future. "At this stage," said an insider, "it is too close to call. But I'm sure there will be mitigating circumstances." Ashton, not to mention Andrew, will point out that, under the new deal with the Guinness Premiership clubs, the national team will benefit from more quality time with the players, but that does not begin until the summer. If Ashton goes, and it is a very big if, who would they replace him with? Jake White, who led South Africa to the World Cup, remains favourite but he would be by no means the only candidate.

Alan Gaffney, the affable Australian who is the director of rugby at Saracens, announced yesterday that he is returning to Leinster, the Irish province based in Dublin.

It is an incestuous affair. Gaffney first coached Brian O'Driscoll's Leinster for a couple of seasons in 2000 before spending three years with Munster. At Leinster he will have a "consultancy" role to the Australian head coach Michael Cheika but he will also cross the water occasionally to offer his services to Saracens.

When Shaun Edwards divided his time between Wasps and Wales this year he may have started a trend. "As has always been the case I will maintain an involvement with Saracens next season at agreed periods," Gaffney said. "The nature of the role allowed me to explore other opportunities."

It also allowed him to renew his friendship with Cheika, whom he first coached at the Randwick Club in 1985. Eddie Jones was also based there and it is "Fast Eddie" who is replacing Gaffney at the end of the season as head man at Saracens.

Gaffney was Jones' assistant with the Wallabies after the World Cup defeat to England in Sydney in 2003, but they both lost their jobs two years later.

In the interim Jones, who has signed a four-year contract with Saracens, is doing some coaching work in Japan and with the Blue Bulls in South Africa.

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