Rotherham place hopes in Nel

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The Independent Online

Seventeen points adrift of the field after 50 per cent of their Zurich Premiership campaign, the disadvantaged Yorkshiremen of Rotherham have been on the hunt for a master strategist-cum-miracle worker capable of staving off relegation. As neither Merlin nor Gandalf were available, they have opted for Steph Nel, the South African coach who helped re-establish Connacht as a going concern just when the Irish Rugby Football Union were preparing to relieve the province of its first-class status.

Whatever Nel achieved during his impressive time at the Galway Sportsground, this challenge is infinitely greater. Rotherham remain pointless, literally if not figuratively, after 11 Premiership outings - they have not even managed a bonus mark for staying within a converted try of any of their opponents - and were ejected from the Powergen Cup at the first hurdle. In the Parker Pen Challenge Cup they have also been lumbered with a tough draw against Narbonne, the Titans hosting the first leg on Friday.

Nel's appointment as head coach, which was confirmed yesterday by the chief executive, Jim Kilfoyle, leaves Mike Schmid, the former Canadian international loose forward who coached the club to promotion last season, is in an interesting position, to say the least.

Kilfoyle insisted Schmid and his partner, the Samoan Mike Umaga, would remain on the staff - "Mike hasn't been sacked, or anything like that," he said - but Nel's appointment over and above the existing back-room team prompts some obvious questions, especially as Rotherham want to add a second South African, Alan Zondagh, to the less than merry throng.

"Steph has made a difference," said Kilfoyle, who initially recruited Nel on a consultancy basis at the end of October. "He has brought a wealth of experience with him - he did a fantastic job in turning Connacht around - and we've become a tighter unit since he's been with us.

"We didn't realise the Premiership had moved on so quickly since we were last involved; the level of competition is very intense now and we've had a rough time of it."

Kilfoyle is also bringing in four South African players - the Free State flanker Ryno van der Merwe, the Lions wing Giscard Pieters, and two locks, Bloues Volschenk of the Eagles and Corniel van Zyl of the Pumas - to bolster a squad seriously short of both competitive muscle and professional know-how.