Johnson chooses life with Wallabies instead of Wales

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The Independent Online

It comes to something when a coach prefers an assistant's job with the Wallabies, currently in the throes of their worst slump in a quarter of a century, to a No 1 position that was his for the taking.

There again, that senior post was with Wales, who have just turned wine into water with a Six Nations Championship performance of mind-boggling ineptitude.

Scott Johnson, in charge of the Welsh team since the controversial resignation of Mike Ruddock last month, confirmed yesterday that he had signed a three-year deal with his native Australia. Never in the annals of professional rugby has there been so striking an example of a front-line coach forsaking the frying pan for the fire, but Johnson clearly expects the heat to be less intense in Sydney than in Cardiff.

After finding himself at the centre of damaging ructions following Ruddock's abrupt departure, which was widely blamed on an outbreak of player power aimed at establishing Johnson in the top position, the popular skills specialist and master motivator was charged with guiding the Red Dragonhood through the last three matches of the Six Nations. They were slaughtered in Ireland, scraped a home draw with Italy and lost a tight game with France.

Johnson was nevertheless tempted by the thought of staying in Wales, but family issues and the opportunity to work with the former Bath coaches John Connolly and Michael Foley in a revamped Wallaby coaching team persuaded him otherwise. It was always the most likely outcome, despite the high regard he enjoyed among senior Welsh players.

"I have loved every moment of my time here, one of the greatest rugby communities in the world," the 43-year-old said yesterday. He could not resist a parting shot, however. "It's a different place to work, because everyone knows their rugby - supposedly."

It was a subtly different tone to the one he used after the defeat to France, when he said: "Whoever comes in will have to wear a heavy coat of armour and make sure they don't let the knives stick in. Look at my back - it's so bloodstained. Even Braveheart didn't have as many bloodstains."

The Welsh Rugby Union will have to move quickly if they are to appoint a successor in time for this summer's difficult tour of Argentina. Gareth Jenkins of the Llanelli Scarlets, very much the people's choice, is unlikely to put himself forward while two of the men who rejected his candidacy in 2004, the WRU chairman, David Pickering, and the chief executive, Steve Lewis, remain in place.

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