If England have too many candidates chasing too few top jobs – Martin Johnson, Jake White, Eddie Jones and Shaun Edwards have all been linked with a commander's role in the red-rose force, much to the bemusement of Brian Ashton, who quite reasonably feels he has done rather well these last few months – Ireland are fast running out of options in their pursuit of a successor to Eddie O'Sullivan, who jumped before being pushed last month.
Yesterday, it emerged in New Zealand that the richly experienced Wayne Smith had distanced himself from talk that he might be the man. "I've never been contacted by anyone, nor have I contacted anyone," said the former Northampton director of rugby, whose popularity in the East Midlands has not decreased one iota since his move back to All Black country before the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour. "I am categorically not in for the job. Steve Tew [the New Zealand Rugby Football Union's chief executive] mentioned this business to me, it came as a bit of a shock to be told about it. Someone has just manufactured a story."
Neither Smith nor Steve Hansen, the other assistant coach working with the All Blacks under Graham Henry, have agreed extensions to their current contracts, but the NZRFU is confident of tying up the loose ends in the next few weeks. Certainly, Smith is showing every sign of putting pen to paper in good time for the arrival of England for a two-Test series in June. "Basically, it's just a housekeeping thing that I haven't got round to dealing with," he said. "It's all very amicable and on track. I am committed to New Zealand."
The Irish, licking some deep wounds after a miserable 2007 World Cup and a less than impressive performance in the recent Six Nations Championship, have already seen three heavy hitters – White, who guided the Springboks to the Webb Ellis Trophy last October; Mike Ruddock, who won a Grand Slam with Wales in 2005; and Pat Howard, the Australian who finished a successful tour of duty as Leicester's head coach 10 months ago – declare themselves unavailable for discussion. Declan Kidney, who takes his Munster side to Gloucester for a sell-out Heineken Cup quarter-final this weekend, is a candidate, but there is some resistance to his candidacy from within the national union. When Ireland fly to New Zealand and Australia this summer, they may do so with a caretaker coach on board.
Meanwhile, Ashton continues to bend his formidable rugby mind towards England's meetings with the All Blacks, despite being undermined by those members of the RFU's management board who believe Johnson, the 2003 World Cup-winning captain, should take over the running of the entire operation. Rob Andrew, the director of elite rugby, was reported in some quarters to have been meeting with the folk hero from Leicester yesterday, but those who work alongside Andrew at Twickenham said he was ill and away from work. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have put it.
Should common sense prevail – a forlorn hope when it comes to the Rugby Football Union, admittedly – and England head to New Zealand under Ashton, they may find a gaping hole in the All Blacks' line-up come the opening Test in Auckland. Daniel Carter, knocked off his perch as the world's best outside-half by the Argentine maestro Juan Martin Hernandez but no one's idea of a slouch, injured his ankle while playing a Super 14 match for the Crusaders at the weekend and is by no means guaranteed to recover in time for the start of his country's international campaign.
Three of the Guinness Premiership's more seasoned performers – the Wasps captain and former England No 8 Lawrence Dallaglio, the Fijian back Seru Rabeni and the ex-Springbok midfielder De Wet Barry – were due to be up before the hanging judge in London last night to answer charges relating to alleged misdemeanours. Dallaglio has already admitted punching his one-time England colleague Julian White during an EDF Cup semi-final 10 days ago and has served a one-match ban imposed by his club.
Rabeni faces an accusation of gouging the hooker Andy Kyriacou during a Premiership match between Leicester and Saracens last month. The case should have been heard last week, but Kyriacou could not attend as a witness because he suffered a serious training injury a few hours before the disciplinary tribunal was due to convene.
Barry, meanwhile, must attempt to explain his spectacularly dangerous tackle on the England centre Mathew Tait at the Stoop Memorial Ground last weekend. The Harlequin, in his first season in the Premiership, was sent off by the referee, Martin Fox, after a challenge that left the Newcastle player in need of prolonged treatment.