Scots-free zone as Blackadder takes No 2 role

Scottish rugby underwent a second convulsion in the space of 48 hours yesterday when a New Zealander, the former All Black captain Todd Blackadder, was appointed as assistant coach to the national team.

Blackadder will work under a fellow Antipodean, the Australian Matt Williams, who succeeded Ian McGeechan after the team's quarter-final exit from the World Cup last month. The only born-and-bred Scotsman to feature in the upheaval, Bill Watson, lost his job as chief executive, which says something about the way things are going north of the border.

The links between Scotland and the southern hemisphere have been strengthened on an annual basis since the game was declared open in 1995. Any number of so-called "kilted kiwis" have found their way into the Test team - the Leslie brothers, Gordon Simpson, Glenn Metcalfe, Brendan Laney and Cameron Mather among them - and in recent seasons, the Scots have also adopted some stray Australians. Andrew Mower, Robbie Russell and Nathan Hines all made the World Cup squad.

Now, outsiders are beginning to dominate the coaching structure, too. Tony Gilbert, a New Zealander, was appointed to head up the new Borders' professional franchise, while Blackadder was lured away from his native Canterbury with a big-licks offer from the capital. His impact was immediate - a gifted but under-motivated Edinburgh side toughened up their act within weeks of his arrival in November 2001.

David Mackay, the new-broom chairman of the Scottish Rugby Union, gave Blackadder the most glowing of endorsements yesterday. "The very qualities that Edinburgh identified in Todd when they signed him - unrelenting dedication, tireless work ethic and skill with people - have seen him become an influential figure in Scottish rugby," Mackay said.

"He is a New Zealander, but he has demonstrated a considerable commitment to Scotland and believes passionately in giving his all to improving rugby here."

Blackadder will continue playing for Edinburgh until his contract expires in May - which will be something of a relief to the club, given the extreme demands of the Heineken Cup campaign.

Williams, who coached Leinster to a Heineken Cup semi-final last season, will appoint the remainder of his coaching staff later this month. With McGeechan taking on the director of rugby role and Jim Telfer calling it a day after decades of unstinting service, the new hierarchy is unlikely to bear any resemblance to the World Cup contingent. The position of Pat Lam, the Samoan who assisted McGeechan in Australia, is under threat, while the two technical coaches, Alan Tait and Mike Byrne, are awaiting developments.

South Africa's disenchanted rugby public are also preparing for change, following news of meetings between Rudi Straeuli, the much-maligned Springbok coach, and his employers.

Straeuli was scheduled to file his report into his team's abject World Cup failure - and, more embarrassingly, his version of events at the now notorious pre-tournament boot camp in which players were forced to train naked and were doused with ice-cold water while having their eardrums blasted by opposition national anthems - at a formal gathering in Cape Town this afternoon. He was also expected to address the racism scandal involving the lock forwards Geo Cronje and Quinton Davids that broke out before the tournament.

Straeuli is expected to announce his resignation soon. Two other senior Springbok figures on the rack are Rian Oberholzer, the managing director of the professional arm of the sport, and Silas Nkanunu, the president of the national union. Insiders expect lots of blood on the carpet.


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