Club rugby in England took another step along the road to footballisation yesterday when two clubs, Wasps and Leeds, divested themselves of their directors of rugby. Tony Hanks, the New Zealander who succeeded Sir Ian McGeechan as the Londoners' boss in 2009, was shown the door despite the team's presence in the top half of the Premiership table, while Key, awarded the "coach of the year" gong in 2010 after keeping the Yorkshiremen in the top flight against considerable odds, was declared surplus to requirements just as another act of escapology was beginning to look possible. Strange days indeed. Bitter ones, too.
Both clubs insisted the departures were by "mutual agreement". According to Chris Thomas, the Wasps chief executive, Hanks was wholly in tune with the board's view that "the time is right for change". Gary Hetherington, the CEO at Leeds, could be heard singing from the same hymn sheet, which looked more like a P45 than anything usually seen in church.
Needless to say, supporters at both Adams Park and Headingley were seen reaching for the nearest salt cellar. Hanks and Key are out of work today because their employers consider this term's results to be unacceptable, even though the domestic league campaign is little more than two-thirds complete. Wasps have won five of their last eight Premiership matches, and beat the reigning European champions Toulouse less than a month ago. Leeds are far more exposed, but have picked up precious league points in four of their five most recent outings.
Over the last six years or so, job insecurity in rugby has been every bit as much of an issue as it is in football, if not more so, and when a coaching technocrat and a celebrated former player work in partnership at the top end of a professional operation, it is generally the technocrat who loses out. So it proved yesterday. Shaun Edwards, the high-profile coach who splits his time between Wasps and Wales, has kept his job, as has the World Cup-winning England flanker Neil Back, who moved to Leeds from Leicester three seasons ago. Edwards will run the Londoners' show for the moment while Back is now undisputed top dog at Headingley. Hetherington confirmed that no direct replacement for Key is being sought, adding that he himself will take on extra duties.
Dean Ryan, highly placed among the coaches currently available, was immediately linked with the vacancy at Wasps, where he spent the majority of his playing career. He is not, however, available for this particular job. He spoke to them two years ago, before Hanks' appointment, but decided the club was not in the best of positions to revisit the glory years of the mid-2000s and has since carved out a new career for himself as a rugby broadcaster. "I am very, very happy doing what I'm doing," he said yesterday.
Andrew Sheridan, the England prop, will be back doing the things that make him happy this weekend when he returns to the Sale scrum for tomorrow's match at Harlequins. Sheridan missed the Six Nations victory over Italy with a ricked back – an injury that allowed Alex Corbisiero, the young London Irish front-rower, to make a highly impressive debut at the top level. Sheridan has been in full training with the England party, however, and with Corbisiero released for tonight's club game at Gloucester, there is every chance that the senior man will be back on the loose head when France come to Twickenham in eight days' time.
It remains to be seen whether Lewis Moody, the red-rose captain, and his fellow Lions flanker Tom Croft will be considered for duty against the French. Both men have shaken off their injury problems – Moody injured his knee while playing for Bath last month, while Croft had his shoulder smashed by the Springbok forward Juan Smith during the brutal England-South Africa Test at Twickenham in November – and are expected to return to Premiership duty this weekend. However, the national manager Martin Johnson gave no clear indication as to his thinking after yesterday's squad training in Surrey.
Johnson accepted he was taking a calculated gamble by allowing so many of his senior party – 18 of the 32 – to rejoin their clubs, but insisted they would all benefit from the same game time. "People get hurt in this sport," he acknowledged, "but you can't tell people not to do what they do for a living and you certainly can't wrap them in cotton wool for the eight weeks of the Six Nations period. As for Lewis and Tom, we'll make a judgement on where they are after this weekend. There are a lot of intangibles – experience, leadership – to balance against what we've seen over the first two matches of the tournament."Reuse content