Jones resigns Gloucester captaincy

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The Independent Online

It has been an interesting 48 hours for Gloucester's southern hemisphere élite, to say the very least. No sooner had Jason Little, a midfield saviour clad in Wallaby green and gold, introduced himself to his Kingsholm disciples, than another top-notch Antipodean, the former All Black lock, Ian Jones, gave up the club captaincy as a bad job. Gloucester will be led by the New Zealander's namesake, Kingsley Jones, when they take on Harlequins on Saturday.

It has been an interesting 48 hours for Gloucester's southern hemisphere élite, to say the very least. No sooner had Jason Little, a midfield saviour clad in Wallaby green and gold, introduced himself to his Kingsholm disciples, than another top-notch Antipodean, the former All Black lock, Ian Jones, gave up the club captaincy as a bad job. Gloucester will be led by the New Zealander's namesake, Kingsley Jones, when they take on Harlequins on Saturday.

Little must wonder exactly what he has got himself into. When the centre agreed to swap the seductive Blue Mountains of New South Wales for the more rustic, boots-and-all world of the Cotswolds, his new employers were still basking in the glory of a top three Premiership finish and qualification for the Heineken Cup. Since when, almost every half-decent player in Gloucester has spent time on an injury list the length of Bondi Beach, and the remnants have dropped four of their first six league matches.

Yesterday, the internal problems deepened significantly when Jones, the most decorated All Black lock in the history of the silver fern, resigned the captaincy after talks with Philippe Saint-André, the head coach, and John Brain, the forwards specialist. "On reviewing the position with Ian, we agreed that perhaps I had given him too much responsibility too soon and that it was in the best interests of the club for him to concentrate on his role as a player," said Saint-André.

Jones, a North Aucklander of indisputable world class, joined Gloucester immediately after last year's World Cup and extracted the best from a Cherry and White pack that had been struggling to live up to the grand tradition of Kingsholm forward play. However, the extra responsibilities of captaincy left him exposed and his tactical acumen was openly questioned after the recent match with Bath, when Gloucester spurned many scoring chances and ended up losing by a point.

By contrast, the more effervescent Kingsley Jones is a natural leader; indeed, he captained the side last season. Saint-André stressed yesterday that the Welsh international open side was an "interim choice", but a strong and decisive performance against Keith Wood, David Wilson and company this weekend may well herald a full-time return to the role.

While there was an air of crisis about Kingsholm yesterday, the full-blown calamity in Springbok circles continued its poisonous course. Nick Mallett, the Bokke coach, was due to face a disciplinary tribunal in Cape Town over the next 48 hours to explain criticisms of South African Rugby Football Union ticketing policy that appeared in the public prints, although most Mallett supporters believe his real "crime" was to lose four of seven Tests played during the summer. However, the hearing will now take place on 27 September following a request by the coach's legal team.

Intriguingly, the delay will make it difficult for Sarfu to blood a new coach in time for the Boks' autumn tour schedule, which includes a Test against England at Twickenham and a big Barbarians occasion in Cardiff. Mallett has been heavily involved in the tour planning and the smart money is on the status quo being maintained until the end of the year.

But Mallett's day was ruined by Joost van der Westhuizen, the displaced Springbok scrum-half, who accused the coach of poor communication. "I still don't know what I did that was wrong," said the World Cup captain, who was dropped for Werner Swanepoel after England's victory in Bloemfontein in June.

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