Jacob Whitehead takes a look at five famous fallouts that have taken place between players and coaches
Five Famous Player-Coach Fallouts
The breakdown of the relationship between Scotland coach Gregor Townsend and star fly-half Finn Russell has been a major talking point of the 2020 Six Nations, with both parties sharing their side of the story over the past week. But what other fallouts have there been between coaches and players?
Gavin Henson and Clive Woodward
Gavin Henson was box-office in 2005. His booming penalty to give Wales a famous win over England, ‘that tackle’ which haunted Mathew Tait’s career, a drop-goal in the Grand Slam-sealing game against Ireland.
His career since then has been blighted by injuries and controversy – all beginning with a very public spat on the 2005 Lions tour.
England’s World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward infamously selected 13 Englishmen in his 22 for the first Test against New Zealand, in a move which led critics to question the future of the Lions.
He selected fly-half Jonny Wilkinson at inside-centre and Will Greenwood, who had not started a Test match for 15 months, on the bench over the red-hot Henson, who spoke of his shock at the decision.
There was also the incident of a ‘staged’ photo of Henson walking alongside Woodward, which was orchestrated by the Lions communications chief Alastair Campbell in an attempt to show their relationship hadn’t been damaged by the selection decision.
Henson later slated Woodward for “out of date” tactics and claimed he did very “little actual coaching”.
Marc Lievremont and the 2011 France Squad
One of the most remarkable footnotes from France’s improbable run to the 2011 World Cup final, where they piled the pressure on New Zealand before losing 8-7, was that they did all this effectively without a coach.
After a humiliating loss to Tonga in the pool stages, the senior players refused to go on a team-bonding trip with Marc Lievremont and took over the running of the team themselves. This wasn’t unexpected, with reports that 25 members of the squad were unhappy with the coach before the tournament even began.
According to Imanol Harinordoquy “It was our adventure… We had to free ourselves from his supervision.” It seemed to work, as victories over England and Wales saw them fall only a fraction short of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
Lievremont called his players “spoilt brats” and has not coached at the top level since.
Quade Cooper and Robbie Deans
There really seemed to be some bad blood between Australia coach Robbie Deans and fly-half Quade Cooper.
It all began when Deans asked Cooper to play against Argentina with an injured knee back in 2012 – only to then lambast the player for his performance.
Last year Cooper revealed on The Ice Project podcast: “I ended up saying, ‘You’ve just thrown me out to dry’, I said, ‘You’re a s*** coach’. Not in those words but I basically said that. We ended up getting in a bit of an argument and that’s when I got fined from the ARU.”
Back in 2012 he also described the Wallabies environment as “toxic” on Twitter.
Deans is not the only coach Cooper has taken issue with. After Michael Cheika stepped down as coach following Australia’s exit from RWC 2019, he tweeted the following…
Austin Healey and Bob Dwyer
In the club game, a dispute between combustible Australian Bob Dwyer and the mercurial Austin Healey at Leicester stands out.
Dwyer preferred Waisale Serevi at scrum-half to Healey, who was moved to the wing.
Then, before a Premiership game against London Irish in 1998, Dwyer dropped Healey, claiming he was unavailable due to a calf strain.
Healey publicly disagreed, stating he was fully fit and willing to play. There were rumours of a row at training and Healey later told newspapers “he was always running me down”.
Soon after that London Irish game, Dwyer was sacked by Leicester. He was reportedly nicknamed ‘Barb Dwyer’ for his harsh methods, but Leicester hooker Richard Cockerill denied that player power contributed to Dwyer’s dismissal.
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Danny Cipriani and Mike Catt
It was 2015 and Stuart Lancaster was preparing England for a World Cup campaign on home soil. Danny Cipriani was invited back into the fold and observers were excited to watch the talented ten in England action once again.
Best-laid plans and all that. The day before the squad was due to be announced Cipriani had a training-ground row with attack coach Mike Catt. Apparently beginning after a misunderstanding around a training drill, where Cipriani showed a perceived lack of effort, it descended quickly into a shouting match.
Cipriani had learnt only hours before that he would not be in the 31-man squad and claimed Catt said that he would ‘end his England career’. Players reportedly rallied around Cipriani, believing Catt had overreacted, and the story only hit the press after England’s World Cup loss to Australia.
This really didn’t end well for anyone – Catt was released from his contract along with Lancaster after England bombed out the World Cup, whilst Cipriani has only featured twice since under Eddie Jones.