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Jenkins pays the price for World Cup exit

By Hugh Godwin

Wales' exit from the World Cup after a thrilling but ruinous defeat in their final Pool B match against Fiji on Saturday evening was followed sharply yesterday by the sacking of their head coach, Gareth Jenkins. The largely unsuccessful 16-month tenure of the former Llanelli flanker and coach ended when he met the Welsh Rugby Union's chief executive, Roger Lewis, and chairman, David Pickering, at the team's hotel in Pornichet on Brittany's Atlantic coast.

"We would all like to thank Gareth for the effort he has put in," Pickering said. "He is a Welsh rugby man through and through. But we must move on and what we have done is take the appropriate action. It is all about results and winning, and we have fallen short. It is a huge disappointment for us all."

Lewis promised a "worldwide search" for a new coach, in an echo of the 1998 appointment of the New Zealander Graham Henry.

In a short statement, Jenkins said: "I accept and understand the decision that has been taken and I leave the post with sadness but no regrets. I have worked with a tremendous team of coaches, administrators and players and I leave in the full knowledge that we have given it our all."

Jenkins' 20 matches included only six wins and one draw, and at this World Cup a comprehensive defeat by the pool winners Australia was followed by Saturday's climactic loss. It was a fantastic match to watch, and Wales outscored their opponents five tries to four. But the shock of defeat and elimination was worsened by the feeling that it was an accident waiting to happen. Jenkins was the so-called "people's favourite" when he got the job last year but his team never looked like real challengers to any side in the world's top 10.

"All of Welsh rugby needs to look at itself and ask the tough questions," said Lewis as he announced a review of the entire elite game to which the players and, indeed, Jenkins would be asked to contribute. "We have got to be totally focused that we don't find ourselves in this position again. This is not blaming one person."

Jenkins' contract should have run to next April and during the press conference on Saturday he vowed to carry on. Later that night, though, the board of the Welsh Rugby Union met to decide otherwise.

Lewis and Pickering's meeting with Jenkins yesterday morning was followed immediately by the players being told the news. The squad then left for a plane to Cardiff, rather than the trip south to Marseilles for a quarter-final. It was the third time in six World Cups that Wales had fallen at the pool stage, after 1991 – when they lost, infamously, to another island nation, Western Samoa – and 1995.

The centre Tom Shanklin said: "We're better than this but we didn't show it. Everyone's just gutted. We wanted to go to Marseilles; instead it's back to the Celtic League. It's been a happy team, a tight squad with people joking around, no problem with morale at all. But Fiji had more ball than we'd planned to give them."

That shortfall in the forwards' exchanges must be laid at Jenkins' door. He was allowed to appoint his assistant coaches but Nigel Davies, Robin McBryde and Rowland Phillips have not come across as a heavy-hitting group. Jenkins was a popular stalwart at Stradey Park but he appeared uncomfortable with the bigger Welsh picture. Recently he stopped speaking to one Welsh daily newspaper.

Four years ago the Welsh were on the up. They put four tries past the All Blacks and gave England a huge fright in the quarter-final. Regional rugby began the same year, and a Grand Slam followed in 2005 under Mike Ruddock. But instead of kicking on to greater success Wales stagnated. An all-too-familiar bout of parochial bloodletting, which has never been entirely explained, did for Ruddock; the Australian caretaker coach Scott Johnson soon went home and Jenkins, who thought he had the job in 2004 only to be savagely disappointed when Ruddock got it, took over in mid-2006.

The WRU is right to take stock. There is talk that a £3m group profit two years ago has turned into a £2m loss. As England can tell them, a losing team are bad for the bank balance.

Who will replace Jenkins?

* Phil Davies

Llanelli Scarlets' director of rugby, a job he inherited from Gareth Jenkins after losing a two-horse race to take charge of Wales last year. Technically adept and comfortable with modern coaching methods.

* Nick Mallett

Linked with succeeding Pierre Berbizier as coach of Italy, the English-born former Springbok supremo has bags of experience at the highest level.

* Robbie Deans

Former All Blacks assistant and a Super 12 winner with the Crusaders who may have to travel to further his career. The early favourite among the overseas contenders.

* Eddie Jones

Australian ex-Wallaby head coach, currently assisting South Africa at the World Cup as technical adviser, while filling a consultant's role with Saracens.

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