Ashton wins Regan's vote to stay as coach

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It has long been an accepted truth in rugby that Mark Regan has never whispered anything in his life, so it was perhaps no surprise to hear that, amid all the mutterings and anonymous swipes being levelled at Brian Ashton, the hooker was the only England player to go on the record.

And to his mind the coach had an "A1" World Cup and, contrary to accusations made this week, played a full and active part in those already famous "crisis talks" in the England team-room after the 36-0 humiliation to South Africa.

"The clear-the-air meeting after the South African pool game was important and Brian really took a central role in that – his management skills were A1," said the 35-year-old, who started all the matches in the knockout stages. "He is the man who makes the decisions and he really got the squad to pull together. He has only been in the job for a few months and I think he should be given a run at it."

If only all of Ashton's squad members felt the same and even if they do not, if only at least one of them would be prepared to come out and say so in public. Yesterday, a few "un-named players" put the boot into the 61-year-old, declaring England reached the final in spite of and not because of him. One was quoted in a national newspaper as saying that Ashton "froze, like a rabbit in the headlights, watching all this chaos take place," while another was reported as claiming: "There were painful meetings involving players swearing, shouting and threatening the coaches and the managers and telling them to 'do some fucking work'".

A picture was painted of an unassertive leader, of confusion then reigning, of the coaching staff arguing with each other and of senior players eventually having to step in. Rob Andrew, the England performance director is alleged to have been notified about all this disaffection and if that is so, and if he hears more such comments in his review of the tournament, then the much-mooted four-year contract for Ashton must be in serious jeopardy. Indeed, the likelihood of a new man being sought before the next World Cup would be a short-odds probability.

* Toby Flood and Peter Richards are the only two players who appeared in last Saturday's World Cup final for England to start for their club sides in the opening matches of the EDF Energy Cup this weekend. Flood plays at outside-half for Newcastle in today's trip to Gloucester, while London Irish give a debut to scrum-half Richards for tomorrow's home tussle with Harlequins.

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