Richard Hill, one of the most widely travelled Premiership coaches as well as one of the best, has presided over his last game at Worcester. Last weekend's heavy defeat at Saracens, the Midlanders' eighth in nine league outings since Christmas, left the former England scrum-half in a weak position at Sixways and club officials confirmed Hill's departure.
Bill Bolsover, chairman of Worcester's rugby committee, said: “Richard was brought into Worcester Warriors to get us promoted back to the Premiership, which he successfully achieved. We then wanted to consolidate our position amongst the elite before breaking out of the bottom four.
”Despite all his hard work, effort, attention to detail and honesty, we have not continued the forward momentum.“
In local rugby circles, Dean Ryan was immediately installed as hot favourite to take over, although his expertise as a forwards coach - he ran the Scotland pack during this season's Six Nations Championship after agreeing a short-term deal at Murrayfield - would raise question marks over the employment prospects of two more Worcester staff. Nigel Redman, who played alongside Ryan in England packs of yore, is the current forwards specialist, while the World Cup-winning prop Phil Vickery has also been working in this area.
Worcester have not enjoyed the best of fortune under Hill, whose coaching CV includes spells with Gloucester, Harlequins and Bristol, as well as a stint in France. Certainly, few sides in Premiership history have lost so many tight games in the final seconds. But equally, they have suffered from acute anonymity - a fact underlined by a decline in season-ticket and corporate business at Sixways. Since being promoted to the top flight for the first time in 2004, they have never once threatened to finish in the top half of the table and, as a result of this continuing failure, they have made a habit of losing their best players. Witness the decision of highly-rated flanker Matt Kvesic to join Gloucester next term.
There are no such problems across the water in Toulon, where Jonny Wilkinson, the most celebrated member of French rugby's foreign legion, has committed himself to another season of thud and blunder on the shores of the Mediterranean. The 33-year-old outside-half had been considering retirement, but the lure of silverware - Toulon, one of the richest sides in the world game, are now routinely in the thick of the argument in all the big tournaments - has worked its magic. He will be joined next season by two high-class international wings, Bryan Habana of South Africa and Drew Mitchell of Australia.
Meanwhile, the organisers of the Six Nations have taken the risky step of resurrecting Friday night rugby in a bid to maximise the competition's television audience. Next year, the reigning champions Wales will play France under lights at the Millennium Stadium. Twelve months later, at the start of World Cup year, in 2015, they will host England in a similar prime-time slot. The last time this stunt was pulled, in 2011, the Wales-England kick-off was delayed because of serious traffic congestion stretching the best part of 20 miles along the M4. Still, the Six Nations committee knows best.
England will open next season's tournament in France on 1 February, concluding with a lunchtime game against Italy in Rome on 15 March. Their eagerly awaited meeting with Wales at Twickenham will be a Sabbath affair, on 9 March.
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