Trouble at home for Jonny, too

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The Independent Online

On the basis that it always pours rather than rains, Jonny Wilkinson might have expected yesterday's developments at Newcastle, where he has played senior club rugby for more than a decade. The Tynesiders, still in the European Challenge Cup shake-up but unlikely to find their way out of the bottom half of the Premiership, parted company with their director of rugby, John Fletcher, and forwards coach, Peter Walton.

As per usual, the words "mutual" and "consent" were trotted out by the employers, but there was no indication that either Fletcher or Walton had a choice in the matter. They go the same way as Wilkinson's long-time friend and mentor Steve Black, who left Kingston Park in unexplained circumstances earlier in the season. He remains in touch with Black, but from a greater distance than he would like.

Dave Thompson, the chairman, has handed the reins to Steve Bates, the former England scrum-half who rejoined the club after a coaching stint in Scotland with the Borders side, who were disbanded last year. Bates, who will be assisted by Ian Peel, recently guided England's second-string Saxons side to victories over Ireland and Italy. His position is to be reviewed at the end of May.

Wilkinson recently signed a contract extension keeping him at the club for another two seasons. "This is a massive endorsement of where we are going," Fletcher said then. "It's no secret that Jonny had offers from elsewhere, but this is his home. It's where his pals are." The tortured outside-half has fewer pals there than he once had, and this will weigh heavily on him. All things considered, yesterday could hardly have been more miserable.

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