Russ leaves the champions

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

The harsh realities of rugby union's grave new world of professionalism intruded last night when with cruel timing Leicester decided it was time to part company with Tony Russ, their coaching director of six years, on his 50th birthday. Russ will therefore miss today's historic visit to Central Park, Wigan, where the Tigers play Orrell.

With Leicester, England's champion club, challenging Bath hard for this season's title and also through to the cup final against Bath in five weeks' time, the timing is bizarre. But it appears that, however critical the matches that lie immediately ahead, Russ has been deemed to be surplus to requirements at Welford Road. The club is making no statement until today.

The irony is that Russ was one of the first professional coaching appointments and has now lost his position because of the onset of all-out professionalism. On the one hand Leicester have two well-respected first-team coaches in Ian Smith, the long-serving former Tigers flanker, and Paul Dodge, an England centre and captain of the Eighties.

And on the other, this season's administrative shake-up at the club, with the installation of another ex-England captain Peter Wheeler as chief executive, has removed many of Russ's organisational functions. With money needing to be saved as well as made in order to finance next season's professional club game, his fate was sealed.

Russ had been coach of Saracens in north London, guiding them into the First Division in 1989, for seven years when Leicester decided to follow the pioneering example that had been set with Barrie Corless's appointment as paid coaching director at Northampton.

When Russ arrived at Welford Road, Leicester were serious underachievers despite having won the inaugural Courage title in 1988 and reaching the 1989 cup final. Under Russ, they went on to win the cup in 1993 and reach the '94 final, while in the league they were runners-up in 1994 and last season became champions again.

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