Kirwan's demise fuels rumours of Wasps job

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The Independent Online

John Kirwan was last night sacked as coach of Italy and instantly fuelled the rumour mills that he could succeed his fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland as director of rugby at Wasps.

John Kirwan was last night sacked as coach of Italy and instantly fuelled the rumour mills that he could succeed his fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland as director of rugby at Wasps.

Former All Black wing Kirwan was interviewed by Wasps a couple of weeks ago, along with the three times British Lions coach Ian McGeechan, Scotland's director of rugby.

Yesterday Wasps said they expected to be able to announce Gatland's successor in the week beginning 18 April, and while McGeechan is clearly favourite and top of Wasps' list, the Yorkshire-born former Scotland centre is also wanted by Bath.

Kirwan's departure yesterday, following a meeting of the Italian Federation's Rugby Council in Bologna, was not unexpected. Italy were whitewashed in this year's Six Nations Championship and even before Italy's final Six Nations match against France in Rome last month, Italian officials had had informal talks with their French counterparts.

In those talks they expressed the desire to revert to the tried and trusted ways and appoint a Frenchman to coach them. The most recent was Georges Coste from 1993 to 1999, but before him there was Pierre Villepreux (1978-1981), who had been preceded by Bertrand Fourcade (1989-1993).

Although Italy recorded Six Nations wins over Wales (2003) and Scotland (2004) under the New Zealander, who was appointed in March 2002 after serving as assistant to another Kiwi Brad Johnstone, they did not have that impressive a record. Italy won just nine of the 32 matches under his aegis.

If Kirwan does get the Wasps job it could well be at Loftus Road because talks, primarily about primacy of tenure of Wycombe Wanderers' Causeway Stadium have broken down. Chief executive David Davies said yesterday: "We want a partnership with Wycombe, but that seems to be a stage too far and the prospects of our returning to Loftus Road are growing."

Attempts are being made to quash rumours that England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson is going to prove uninsurable for the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand this summer - always assuming he is fully recovered from injury and fit, and selected.

It would now seem that reports that no one wanted to underwrite the risk to one of the rugby world's most battered bodies have been exaggerated.

Last night Premier Rugby Limited and Lions' chief executive John Feehan, who had originally told the Independent on Sunday "We will not insure Jonny Wilkinson's knee," issued a statement trying to play down the whole situation.

The statement said: "There have been a number of misleading articles in the media in the last couple of days concerning player insurance and Jonny Wilkinson in particular.

"While we do not comment on any individual players, we do not believe any player is uninsurable.

"The regulations laid down by the Lions Committee are quite clear. No player will travel without insurance. Those not eligible due to a pre-existing injury will be found alternative cover, or an agreement will be reached with the player to ensure any potential loss is underwritten." Oddly the tour is being sponsored by Zurich, one of Europe's leading insurers.

It is feared that Wilkinson's recent injuries, combined with his vast earning potential, make him a financial risk the Lions might not be able to afford.

Wilkinson has suffered a catalogue of injuries since the World Cup. The England fly-half had an operation on his shoulder and is currently battling back from knee ligament damage.

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