Brian Smith’s farewell to top-flight English rugby looks like being significantly more abrupt than the former England attack coach imagined.
Smith was planning to return to his native Australia at the end of the current campaign, but there were strong indications that London Irish had decided to bring his rugby directorship at the Madejski Stadium to an immediate end, even though the Exiles have two significant European Challenge Cup games ahead of them over the next week and a half.
The club’s last-ditch victory over Exeter on Sunday virtually guaranteed their top-flight status for another season and Smith, heavily linked with Super 15 coaching jobs in Wallaby country, had been planning a serious challenge for the Challenge Cup title. It is now unclear who will take charge of this Saturday’s home game with the French club Grenoble, but it will be a strange situation indeed if Irish do not have a full-time replacement lined up and available to take charge at short notice.
While these events were unfolding, the Exiles were also said to be closing in on a deal to bring the All Black prop Ben Franks to the Madejski after this autumn’s World Cup – a clear change of direction for a club who have spent the last few seasons losing big-name talents rather than signing them. Player recruitment, low on the priority list in recent cash-strapped seasons, has suddenly returned to the top of the agenda: if Franks agrees to leave New Zealand for a stint in Reading, he is likely to be joined by a number of other new faces.
Franks is nowhere near as celebrated as his younger brother Owen, who was New Zealand’s go-to man in the tight-head position when they won the Webb Ellis Trophy on home soil four years ago and is a racing certainty to perform the same role this time round. But the 30-year-old Hawke’s Bay forward, who spent half a dozen Super Rugby seasons with the Christchurch-based Crusaders before moving to the Wellington-based Hurricanes, can perform to Test standard on either side of the scrum, which makes him a very valuable commodity indeed.
Meanwhile, the two-tour Lions outside-half Stephen Jones has decided to leave his coaching position with Wasps at season’s end and return to Llanelli, where he will join the Scarlets back-room staff as backs specialist. Jones spent the vast majority of his successful playing career in the red shirt of his local regional side – 14 years in all – and found the temptation of replacing his fellow Welsh international Mark Jones in the home set-up too strong to resist.
The confirmation means that attention now switches to the current Wasps stand-off Andy Goode, who has been offered a coaching role by the club instead of a new playing contract. The 34-year-old midfielder is weighing his options – unsurprisingly, given his recent form, he is not entirely convinced that this is the right moment to move to the dark side – but such opportunities do not come around every five minutes. He has a delicate decision ahead of him.Reuse content