Rowell seen as Bath's saviour

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The Independent Online

Jack Rowell may not consider himself in the running for the vacant director of rugby post at Bath – yesterday, he flatly denied reports that he had been interviewed for the job – but the trustees of the struggling West Country club are certainly keen to see him return to the scene of his unparalleled triumphs as a coach. What is more, their bid to tempt Rowell back from Bristol may prove the catalyst for a boardroom struggle with Andrew Brownsword, the millionaire financier who bought the club in 1996.

The trustees, committee men from the amateur era whose grasp of rugby's professional realities is significantly greater than that of the current management, are deeply concerned at the collapse in standards that put the 1998 European champions at risk of Premiership relegation. They believe Rowell, a successful businessman as well as the architect of a team good enough to win 13 trophies in 11 years, is admirably qualified to lead the club through a minefield of its own making and back into green pastures.

Their problem is that they hold only a 25 per cent stake in the club: Brownsword, said to be the richest of all the Premiership owner-investors, holds 75 per cent. If the trustees want to replace the current management board, on which Brownsword serves as his own chief executive, they will have to persuade him to relinquish day-to-day control or, if he refuses, find the hard cash to buy him out. Some of the trustees believe this to be their only option.

Rowell, currently the chief executive at Bristol, is under contract until the middle of the autumn, and is less than ecstatic at being linked him with the Bath vacancy. "Nothing has happened," the former England coach insisted last night, "and I have no intention of involving myself in a bout of rugby politics. I have a job to do at Bristol and I would like to get on with it." However, there is no doubt that influential figures at the Recreation Ground see his appointment as the first and most important step in the Bath revival, and will go out of their way to make it happen.

A nastier outbreak of politics hit South African rugby when Craig Livingstone, the agent of the Springbok full-back Percy Montgomery, claimed his client had decided to play in Britain – possibly at Newport – because black players were being fast-tracked into the national team via the quota system. "It definitely influenced his decision," Livingstone said. "There are two black full-backs" – Conrad Jantjes and Ricardo Loubscher – "competing with Percy for the Springbok berth and coaches are under great pressure to accommodate black players. It is unlikely Percy would have been selected ahead of them."

These views were rejected by the Bokke coach, Rudi Straeuli. "It's a sad excuse," he retorted. "Percy is going because of the cash incentive. He told me as much. It means more to him to earn English pounds than it does to play for the Springboks."

Ireland have left open two places in their 26-strong party for next month's mini tour of New Zealand. The selectors are giving more time for the back-row forward Anthony Foley to recover from a shoulder injury and for the threequarter Shane Horgan to prove his fitness following an ankle injury.