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Jack Rowell, former England and Bath rugby union head coach, dies aged 87
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Jack Rowell, former England and Bath rugby union head coach, dies aged 87

Steve Borthwick has led tributes to the former England and Bath head coach Jack Rowell after his death at the age of 87. Rowell coached England from 1994 to 1997, overseeing 21 victories in 29 Tests and reaching the 1995 World Cup semi-finals.

Players such as Will Carling, Jeremy Guscott and Rob Andrew all flourished under Rowell’s leadership, with England winning Five Nations grand slams in 1995 and 1996. Rowell was appointed by the Rugby Football Union after an outstanding 16-year coaching career with Bath. He transformed the West Country club into giants of the English domestic game, winning five league titles and the knockout cup eight times under his direction.

In a statement, Bath said: “It is with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of former Bath Rugby head coach and club president Jack Rowell on Monday 1 July. Jack Rowell, all 6ft 7in of him, was a towering figure in the history of Bath and English rugby, a unique character who will never be equalled for his extraordinary achievements as a visionary, astute strategist and inspirational coach.

“From his arrival in the summer of 1978 to his departure at the end of yet another trophy-laden season in 1994 to coach England, Jack had set about creating and sustaining an unstoppable force in domestic rugby. On behalf of everyone at Bath Rugby, we extend our deepest condolences to Jack’s family and loved ones during this difficult time. Rest in peace, Jack.”

England captain Will Carling is mobbed by fans at Twickenham in 1995 after winning the Five Nations under Jack Rowell.View image in fullscreen

Rowell, a towering lock whose playing career was ended early by injury, talked of Bath as a “family” and it was during his progressive 16-year spell at the Recreation Ground that his fondest memories in rugby were created. “Bath was a way of life for me. Each year we’d either win something or be seriously disappointed if we didn’t,” he said after stepping aside from rugby.

Rowell returned to the Recreation Ground as director of rugby in 2002 and worked with Borthwick, the current England head coach and a former Bath captain. “We are saddened to hear of the passing of Jack Rowell and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends,” Borthwick told englandrugby.com.

“As a player at Bath, I had the privilege of working with him when he was director of rugby. He left a huge impression on me, not only as someone with incredible rugby knowledge, but also a fantastic man. His contribution to English rugby was enormous, and he will be sorely missed.”

A drawn series in South Africa opened his England stewardship and the following year a Carling-led England completed the Five Nations grand slam. Rowell had inherited stalwarts of the Geoff Cooke era such as Carling, Guscott and Dean Richards, but there were also many stars of the Bath dynasty he had created.

For the second Test against the Springboks, five players from the Recreation Ground were named in the starting XV and an additional five were present on the bench. By the time the 1995 World Cup arrived, those numbers had thinned and Carling was still at the helm, revitalised by Rowell’s shrewd man-management. The Oxford University politics, philosophy and economics graduate was cantankerous and prickly, but he knew how to push the right buttons.

A promising World Cup peaked with a last-gasp quarter-final victory over Australia because a round later England were flattened by New Zealand as Jonah Lomu went on the rampage in Cape Town.

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Jonah Lomu leaves England flailing in Cape Town at the 1995 World Cup.View image in fullscreen

Another Five Nations title followed in 1996 and a year later England finished second behind France but, despite his success, Hartlepool-born Rowell stepped down in August 1997 after declining to renew his contract. Under pressure to upgrade from a part-time to full-time basis, he instead chose to focus on his distinguished business career which included chairmanships at a number of high-profile companies in the public and private sectors.

Rowell was soon back in the game he loved. His commercial and rugby expertise were needed at financially stricken Bristol where he served on the board, but the pull of Bath that he once described as an “umbilical cord” was strong and in 2002 he returned as director of rugby to a club teetering on the brink of relegation. A tough campaign followed but in 2004 they reached the Premiership final, where they narrowly lost to Wasps.

Bath’s glory days were firmly behind them, however, and even Rowell’s magic was unable to rekindle the success of the 1980s and 1990s, when the five league titles and eight cup wins he engineered left rivals floundering.

Source: theguardian.com