Eddie Jones, the nearest thing English rugby has had to a bête noire these last few years, will make the Guinness Premiership his principal domain next season when he succeeds Alan Gaffney, his fellow Australian, as director of rugby at Saracens. Already installed at Vicarage Road as a consultant he enjoyed a successful spell at the club in a caretaker capacity before Gaffney's arrival in 2006 and agreed to maintain close links the former Wallaby coach is expected to stay in the job at least three years.
Jones, who famously engaged in a number of knockabout verbal jousts with Sir Clive Woodward during the latter's spell with England and won more than his fair share, guided Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, where they were beaten by Woodward's men. Last year, he went one better by helping South Africa secure the title at the expense of the holders. His beefed-up role with Saracens was expected to be confirmed today.
Wales, currently piecing together a new coaching team under the former New Zealand hooker, Warren Gatland, might have been interested in Jones. But they have settled on an Englishman, the former triathlon chief, Graeme Maw, as their first elite performance director. Maw, a 43-year-old outsider who once worked as high performance manager at the Queensland Academy of Sport in Australia, will work alongside Gatland and the new head of rugby development, Nigel Davies, who coached the national team for a few weeks after the serious misfire at the World Cup in France.
"To achieve success at elite level, you have to be at the forefront of all that high-performance management can provide," said Maw, who saw Britain's triathletes rattle up 28 major titles during his six years in the sport. "I know I can put in place systems and a culture that will improve our best players." His role gives him a seat on the executive board of the Welsh Rugby Union.
Two English sides with settled back-room staffs, Bath and Gloucester, meet at the Recreation Ground tonight in a Premiership match that would have drawn a gate of 20,000, had the space been available. Gloucester are top of the table, having beaten another of the West Country brigade, Bristol, at Kingsholm last week. Bath still lie second, despite losing at Wasps, and have recalled all the top-drawer players who missed proceedings at High Wycombe.
Olly Barkley, one of the form midfielders in the tournament, will start, as will the South African half-backs Michael Claassens and Butch James plus the international tight forwards Lee Mears, Matt Stevens and Steve Borthwick. The much talked-about Matt Banahan returns to the left wing, where his second-row forward's frame will balance the threat posed by Gloucester's equally substantial wide man, Lesley Vainikolo.
The Cherry and Whites have brought back their captain, Peter Buxton, and their best scrummager, Carlos Nieto. Buxton's reappearance means a drop to the bench for the blind-side flanker Alasdair Strokosch, recently garlanded as the Premiership Player of the Month for December.
Gloucester have never won a Premiership match at the Rec, despite lording it over their bitter rivals in terms of league position over the last few seasons, and their cause has not been helped by injuries to both senior full-backs, Iain Balshaw and Olly Morgan. Victory tonight would see their odds shorten as potential champions, although their next match a home meeting with an improving Wasps a fortnight tomorrow will be the true test.