Wales ready to name new coach

The long search for the right man to fill an arduous and thankless role will come to an end tonight. Steve Bale reports on the selection process
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The Independent Online
It has taken all of eight months but finally the Welsh Rugby Union may today be ready to give itself a national coach to succeed Alan Davies - remember him? - who was elbowed aside two months before the World Cup.

The choice appears to have boiled down to Kevin Bowring or Pierre Villepreux (yes, that Pierre Villepreux) or Clive Griffiths, which is about as disparate a trio as the committee chaired by the team manager, Geoff Evans, could get. Dennis John, who went to the World Cup and was Bowring's assistant for this month's Fiji match, is also said to be in the frame.

Last week Vernon Pugh, the WRU chairman, indicated that interviews would take place today followed by a possible announcement this evening. Would that it were so simple. Even though this is a professional, and so pioneering, appointment worth around pounds 50,000 a year, it is also fraught with peril.

You have only to ask Alex Evans, the Australian who acted as caretaker-coach after Davies' departure and would not care to undergo such an experience again. The bad-mouthing of Evans, coach of Cardiff until he goes home for good at Christmas, has become an almost weekly occurrence. When he took the field with his players last Saturday, he was impolitely urged by certain Newport followers to get back to the Antipodes post-haste.

Alas for Bowring, Villepreux and Griffiths, this is the sort of thing that goes with the territory and is a measure of the depths to which Welsh rugby long ago sank. Is it really more than 11 years since the intolerable burden of anonymous phone-calls persuaded Eddie Butler to give up the Welsh captaincy?

If Bowring were to accept his country's call he would be exchanging the security of a good teaching post - director of physical education at Clifton College - for a position that is sufficiently insecure for there to have been six Wales coaches since 1988.

But then if anyone has been groomed for the job it is the 41-year-old former London Welsh captain. He became the Wales Under-20 coach in 1989 and has guided Wales A through 13 matches with only four defeats. If Wales had performed better when he stood in for the injured Evans against Fiji, one imagines Bowring's credentials would have become irresistible.

He is a product of the system and if the system had any value he would be bound to be appointed. But that begs two questions: how badly does he want it and does the system indeed have any value? On the first point, Bowring could be excused for wanting a contract that took him to the 1999 World Cup but the union is said to want to keep it to three years.

This would permit the now-traditional practice of changing the Wales coach when a World Cup is imminent, but the situation would be further complicated if Bowring wanted to continue coaching at Clifton even if he could then no longer be in the employ of the school.

The fact is that for years Welsh rugby has not been producing coaches in the necessary quantity or of the necessary quality. Hence the international casting-around, though when Villepreux was asked about the WRU by the French rugby weekly Midi Olympique he scorned the very notion.

Still, the nonpareil former full-back has developed a substantial coaching connection with the UK, at one time assisting even England, and is directly involved with both Oxford University and London Welsh and has an impressive coaching pedigree from his many years with Toulouse.

He also speaks reasonable English, which would be a help, but if the great man really were interested in resuscitating Welsh rugby you would think another job, the pounds 80,000-a-year director of rugby which is advertised in the current issue of Rugby World magazine, would have more appeal.

As for Clive Griffiths, who turned professional as soon as he won his cap in 1979, the WRU has been more or less warned off by Warrington, where he coaches. But, as Cardiff showed in acquiring Jonathan Davies from the same club, nothing - certainly nothing financial - is impossible.

If coaching the Wales rugby league team scarcely qualifies him to become coach of the rugby union equivalent, Griffiths has a convenient extra string to his bow in coaching Cowley School, the celebrated rugby union institution at St Helens.

n Cardiff are facing a major injury crisis for tonight's Heineken Cup match against Ulster. Hemi Taylor, Derwyn Jones and Adrian Davies face late fitness tests while they are already without Mark Ring, who has damaged ankle ligaments.