Solomons pays for his wisdom without passion

Northampton's coach lost his job after losing the club. Hugh Godwin sees a quick return to old ways
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Alan Solomons was sacked as head coach of Northampton, not so much for who he was, but for who he wasn't. Two years of Wayne Smith, who wove himself into the fabric of the club before heading home to New Zealand to coach the All Blacks, spoilt the Saints. When Solomons was unable or unwilling to match Smith's "all for one" philosophy and devotion to the East Midlands, his days were numbered.

Alan Solomons was sacked as head coach of Northampton, not so much for who he was, but for who he wasn't. Two years of Wayne Smith, who wove himself into the fabric of the club before heading home to New Zealand to coach the All Blacks, spoilt the Saints. When Solomons was unable or unwilling to match Smith's "all for one" philosophy and devotion to the East Midlands, his days were numbered.

One of Solomons' assistants, the forwards specialist Adrian Kennedy, quit the club on Friday. The other, Frank Ponissi, is staying on among a backroom quartet comprising new head coach Budge Pountney, Paul Grayson and Paul Larkin. Though the club announced they would "comb the world" for Solomons' successor, chairman Keith Barwell said he would like the appointee to emerge from these four.

Pountney is a Hampshire lad by birth and a recent Scotland captain; Grayson hails from Lancashire. But between them and Larkin, they have spent 35 years at Northampton. This league of gentlemen believe in local clubs for local people, wherever they come from.

"It doesn't matter how technically brilliant you are," said Grayson, Northampton's England fly-half and longest-serving player. "If someone has more passion about what they're doing than you do, you are liable to get beaten. We have not got that this year. All the good things we had were swept away, and it doesn't take long for that to happen. Individually, you can take whatever motivation you want, but there needs to be a group identity, which should inspire the squad."

Clearly, Solomons' results counted heavily against him. A board meeting after last weekend's club record eighth straight Premiership defeat, against Worcester, voted unanimously to terminate his three-year contract after only six months. But if the players had stood behind the South African lawyer-turned-coach, he might have survived. Solomons did not get the necessary support. He had lost the dressing room - and stands accused of losing his bearings.

"We had players from overseas in the past like Garry Pagel and Pat Lam who immersed themselves into the club and the town," said Grayson. "And Wayne Smith placed a huge emphasis on those principles. It's about knowing things like why the Church's Stand [sponsored by the long-established shoemakers] is called that."

Smith regarded Northampton's history as more than a load of cobblers, read up on it and preached it to his squad. He made an icon of the club jersey and rebranded it with the word "Saintsman" for the 2002 cup final. The result was a 38-7 drubbing by London Irish; nevertheless the ethos struck a chord with a Franklin's Gardens crowd who liked nothing better than their brass band playing "When the Saints Go Marching In".

Solomons arrived from Cape Town via three years at Ulster with a good CV and an open-door policy, at least to reporters, who were welcome to contact him up to and including the night before a match. His cause was undermined by a bizarre decision to field Bruce Reihana out of position at fly-half while Grayson was missing with a broken hand. Solomons is said to have turned up to the "First XV" supporters' meetings only after his team won, which this season at home has been a measly twice in seven attempts.

Barwell revealed his unhappiness at what he called a "poor management system", leading to divisions in the squad. "It amounted to saying 'there are 15 good players and the rest of you are shite'," said the chairman. "When Grayson was injured, Solly tried Reihana. When the locks were injured he tried to put Grant Seely, a No 8, in there. One player told me it didn't matter how badly he played, he knew he was going to be selected."

The Saintsmen are, in terms of trophies, nearly men - just the Heineken Cup in 2000 to show for Barwell's heavy investment. Yet, for consistency, they are second only to Leicester, with top-five finishes in the Premiership in each of the last six years and appearances in three of the last five domestic cup finals. Barwell admitted some sympathy with Solomons, for inheriting a team that "got old together".

Grayson, who will captain the team at Newcastle in the Premiership today before a daunting Heineken Cup double-header against Toulouse, said: "We're looking no further than wanting the club to survive in the league and get to the end of the season in reasonable shape."

He and Pountney intend to tap a rich seam of contacts for advice. "Budge will be in touch with Geech [Ian McGeechan, Scotland's director of rugby and former Northampton coach]," said Grayson. "And I'll be ringing Wayne Smith - he's over here with the All Blacks at the moment. I have done some coaching with England Under-21s alongside Brian Ashton, and he will also be a valuable sounding board."

Barwell points to Steve Thompson and Ben Cohen's flight from Twickenham to Kingston Park this afternoon - Cohen will play, depending on how much service he saw with England - as proof of a restored unity. The latest in a long line of injuries rules out Corne Krige, who stepped down as skipper on Monday, and Robbie Kempson. But Barwell promised: "I think you'll see a different attitude today and against Toulouse. I'm throwing Budge and Grase in at the deep end, but I'll be very surprised if they don't gel the squad together reasonably quickly."

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