BY STEVE BALE
The Wales management team last night jumped before they were pushed when, with the World Cup only two months away, they resigned after pleading their case before the Welsh Rugby Union general committee as successfully as their side have been in this season's Five Nations' Championship.
During a dramatic evening at Cardiff Arms Park Alan Davies, the coach, Gareth Jenkins, assistant coach, and Robert Norster, team manager, spent 53 minutes attempting to persuade the committee that they should be retained despite only the second Welsh whitewash in championship history.
But they took the only course open to them when it became clear that, if they did not go voluntarily, they would be sacked, victims not only of Wales's bleak playing record since actually winning the title last season but of the barren style of their team's rugby. The empathy between Davies and his players, which persuaded him to stay on after his temporary appointment for the 1991 World Cup, had evidently disappeared.
The Wales A coaches, Kevin Bowring and Dennis John, stand every chance of eventual promotion but they have declared themselves unavailable for the World Cup and Alex Evans and Mike Ruddock, the full-time coaching directors of Cardiff and Swansea respectively, have emerged as clear favourites to do an emergency job in South Africa.
However, the WRU secretary, Edward Jones, said last night that the committee was giving itself more time to decide on the new appointments. "An offer of resignation in the light of indifferent performances in the current season was made by the Wales management team and this has been accepted," Jones said. "The matter of the successors for the three positions will be made later this week."
This bald statement followed almost five hours of meetings beginning with the powerful national player development committee chaired by Geoff Evans, the selector who fell out with Davies over the selection for the Irish match which concluded the whitewash. It had been a slightly less precipitate downfall than it appeared, because as recently as the first Five Nations match of last season Davies's neck was widely perceived to be on the line.
In the event Wales trounced Scotland and ended up going to Twickenham seeking their first Grand Slam for 16 years. They failed in that endeavour and Davies never overcame the private antipathy of certain leading committee members, notably Ray Williams, the former WRU director of coaching, and even Vernon Pugh, the chairman.
It is a sorry end to a four-year period that began in an even greater pre-World Cup crisis than this and the dismal fate not only of Davies but of his three predecessors, Ron Waldron, John Ryan and Tony Gray (two resigned and one sacked), is bound to give pause for thought to any would- be successors.
None the less Evans and Ruddock are thought to be the men. The former, once assistant coach of Australia under Alan Jones, will be out of contract with Cardiff while the World Cup is taking place so will be free to coach the Wales side and Swansea are thought to be willing to give Ruddock a temporary release as well.
"If an approach were made I would certainly consider it but I am employed by Swansea RFC and it would be up to them to release me," Ruddock said. Evans, meanwhile, is banging the drum about Welsh chances in the World Cup: "There is a fantastic amount of ability and there's no reason in playing terms why they should not do well in South Africa."
n England will host a tour of seven or eight matches by Australia that will include two Tests in 1998. The RFU has to decide whether to maximise its income from the tour by playing both Tests at Twickenham, or staging the first Test at a football stadium in the North.
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