Bristol turn to former England coach Rowell as fortunes slump

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The Independent Online

If Bristol were awarded four points for every back-room reshuffle instead of every victory, they would spend their lives at the top of the English Premiership rather than the bottom. After three successive defeats, the last of them a truly calamitous home reverse at the hands of Sale on Wednesday night, the West Countrymen are moving towards yet another major reorganisation by attempting to talk Jack Rowell, the former England coach, into accepting a hands-on managerial role at the Memorial Ground.

If Bristol were awarded four points for every back-room reshuffle instead of every victory, they would spend their lives at the top of the English Premiership rather than the bottom. After three successive defeats, the last of them a truly calamitous home reverse at the hands of Sale on Wednesday night, the West Countrymen are moving towards yet another major reorganisation by attempting to talk Jack Rowell, the former England coach, into accepting a hands-on managerial role at the Memorial Ground.

Rowell is currently a non-executive director of the club and has been involved in an advisory capacity since Malcolm Pearce, the owner, first pumped his millions into Bristol two seasons ago. Initially, Rowell shared a dream ticket with Bob Dwyer, who is now back in Sydney after quitting the Memorial Ground in July.

At present, youthful hands are on the tiller. Dean Ryan is heading up the coaching team with support from Mark Tainton, who beat the higher-profile Joel Stransky to the vacant post during the summer. Dwyer's sudden departure to New South Wales, who offered him an attractive opening at Super 12 level, left Bristol without an experienced figure at the helm, hence the desire to install Rowell at the centre of a struggling operation.

Rowell's track record at club level is second to none; indeed, his achievement at neighbouring Bath, who won six league championships, 10 cup finals and three doubles under his stewardship between 1984 and 1994, is unlikely to be equalled. Not unreasonably, Pearce regards him as a rugby alchemist with the ability to turn an under-achieving behemoth into something leaner, meaner and infinitely more successful. If Rowell is tempted back into the fray, the game will be the more entertaining for his presence.

Meanwhile, rugby league lost another of its cherished icons to its rival code yesterday when Joe Lydon, a celebrated utility back with Widnes and Wigan and the owner of 32 Great Britain caps, was unveiled by Twickenham as England's new Under-19 manager. The 37-year-old from Lancashire, who follows Phil Larder and Ellery Hanley down the union route, quit his post as the Rugby League's first performance director last week. Now we know why.

"Joe's experience within the rugby league system will be invaluable for us as we commit more resources to developing young players throughout the country," said David Shaw, the Rugby Football Union's development director. "His knowledge of the academy process and his experience of working with élite players will be a major asset for the union."

Sadly, Lydon will soon find himself in a sea of rugby politics as the leading Premiership clubs and the union continue their destructive and apparently endless wrangle over money and competition structures. The clubs are furious that, having been encouraged by the RFU to develop their own academies, Twickenham now wants to regionalise player development under its own auspices - a potentially serious argument that puts Lydon smack in the firing line.

Yesterday, negotiators from England's three major bodies - English First Division Rugby, English Second Division Rugby and the Union itself - met to discuss ways out of the current political impasse, caused by the failure of the clubs to agree on promotion and relegation and the Union's refusal to release revenue promised to the Premiership clubs last season. After five years of argy-bargy, the cynics in the game are beginning to wonder whether these people really want an agreement at all.

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