Road to nowhere beckons Glasgow Kiwi Searancke

GLASGOW coach Kiwi Searancke hardly has his woes to count. On the day after his side were well-beaten by Edinburgh and chief executive David Jordan had confirmed that the New Zealander had been internally disciplined after an altercation with the team’s marketing manager, further signs of the stress and strains at Hughenden continue to emerge.

With qualification for the Heineken Cup now unlikely, even in the event of an extra place being freed up from Wales, Jordan admitted yesterday that the latest challenge to face the club will be to retain the services of their top players in the face of dressing-room discontent with Searancke’s abrasive style. Although Gordon Bulloch, Glenn Metcalfe and Gordon Simpson signed new contracts last year, almost two thirds of the squad are out of contract at the end of this season. One Zurich Premiership director of rugby said on Friday that he had received what he termed a "surprising" number of offers for the services of Glasgow players next season, and added that he is already in talks with one promising young player.

"At the moment it’s still not clear exactly how much money we’ll have for next year," said Jordan. "But there’s no doubt that things are very different now from the free-spending days of two or three years ago when many of the current contracts were signed. We’ll be squeezed next season, and our squad will certainly change over the summer. That’s hardly surprising, and it’s true that we’ll definitely be bringing in players over the summer, it’s just a question of how many. As I said, we still don’t know what funds will be available to us."

With a new coach halfway into a two-year contract, that changes in personnel are being actively considered is hardly surprising. Yet placed against a backdrop of worryingly poor recent results and apparent player discontent, both Searancke and his players are feeling the pressure.

One senior player, who asked not to be named, said: "There are a lot of guys who get on so badly with Kiwi that they are barely on speaking terms, and morale has really suffered because he’s made it obvious that he doesn’t rate a lot of the players. There are lots here whose contracts are up at the end of the season, so of course people are worried."

Jordan admits that player discontent has been a genuine issue, but refused to comment on rumours of what amounted to a senior players’ union meeting after Searancke publicly dressed down his players earlier in the season. He believes, however, that the teething pains of managerial change have been exacerbated by the result of one match, the home loss to Ulster.

"Sure we didn’t make the Heineken Cup quarter-finals again, but you’ve got to remember that up until the Ulster game we had a good season, on a par with Edinburgh’s," he said. "Since then there’s no denying that we’ve had real problems; losing to Ulster in the way we did kicked the stuffing out of our season, and I believe it was a catalyst for all of this."

If Ulster was the catalyst, then the abject Heineken Cup exit at Sale two weeks ago was the tinderbox. The aftermath of that game, which was undoubtedly Glasgow’s worst performance of the season and ensured back-to-back exits from both the Celtic League and Heineken Cup, saw a heated public confrontation in which Searancke ejected the club’s affable marketing manager, Graham Clarke, from the team-room at the Britannia Country House Hotel in Manchester for asking him to sign a shirt, promising that "I’ll punch you in the face if you don’t get out of here". The two men have not spoken since, and Clarke is shortly to leave Glasgow.

There is no question that Searancke cares deeply about the downturn. After Glasgow’s final pool game in the Heineken Cup, a 34-8 home defeat by Llanelli, Searancke was so angry that he was initially unable to face the press afterwards, instead sending hooker Gordon Bulloch to field questions.

Yet while the fiery Searancke admits that he has rubbed some players up the wrong way and made mistakes, he says he is "no quitter". Jordan, for his part, believes it is invidious to condemn the coaching team for displaying the very qualities for which they were hired.

"Kiwi introduced a toughness into the regime and that inevitably breeds disenchantment and uncertainty amongst a certain type of player. I’ve taken soundings amongst the players, and while they acknowledge that the environment has changed, it’s generally been a change they have welcomed. Some players can’t cope, though, and they’ll go by the wayside.

"New management causes friction, and what we’ve had to do is sit down with the players and have a dialogue. That said, being honest and open is one thing, but we all accept that you can go too far and I think that’s what Kiwi has done at times. But we deliberately brought in two professionals [Searancke and assistant Steve Anderson] with extremely high expectations. You can’t say on one hand that you need that toughness - which we all agreed we did - and then turn around and complain when some people don’t like it."

Fair point, yet the prognosis for next season remains murky. Much will depend upon the extent to which Searancke is able to forge a team of his own through a raft of summer signings, with Orrell’s Andy Craig and Northampton’s Mattie Stewart just two of the names cropping up in dispatches.

The chances are that, the SRU’s belt-tightening notwithstanding, Glasgow will be able to bring in players from England or from the southern hemisphere. Searancke and Glasgow followers must surely hope so.

Glasgow’s coach has applied a confrontational "my way or highway" approach. Only time will judge whether the team is on a road to nowhere.

THE extent to which rugby is feeling the economic pinch was illustrated further with news of a secret meeting of the Zurich Premiership owners on Thursday. The agenda is understood to have centred around a proposal to cut the wage cap from 1.8m per team to 1.2m.

Bristol owner Malcolm Pearce has already asked all staff to accept a 30 per cent wage cut, while Saracens owner Nigel Wray has reportedly asked his staff to take cuts of between 10 to 20 per cent.

Also on the agenda at the meeting was a proposal to limit the number of overseas players in any Zurich match-day squad to one on the pitch at any one time, with one on the bench.