Howells: Edinburgh tenure was ‘most difficult’ of my career

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Former Edinburgh Rugby coach Lynn Howells has described his time at the Capital helm as the “most difficult” of his career.

The admission comes in an autobiography entitled Despite the Knock-backs which sees Howells lifting the lid on a 
particularly turbulent time at Murrayfield.

Howells tells how his chances were decimated by international calls and writes: “You either have to accept that the Celtic League doesn’t matter so long as Scotland produce – or sign overseas players.”

Howells maintains his physical approach shocked the Edinburgh personnel – “apparently sessions before I arrived had been pretty gentle” – and tells of “one or two players” thinking they made it big-time on joining the team.

“Nothing has really changed,” insists Howells when highlighting the inevitable club versus country conflict which perhaps explains Edinburgh’s lowly position in the current league table.

A former tour coach of his native Wales as well as mentor to Cardiff Blues, Leonessa, Doncaster and the defunct Celtic Warriors, Howells is most incisive on Edinburgh falling 
briefly into private ownership.

Howells was plucked from the Italian scene in September 2006 by the Carruthers brothers, Bob and Alex, soon after they took the club out of central control. But he was sacked a year into the job and it was an arrangement doomed to failure says Howells when portraying himself as a fall guy but sympathetic to the private owners.

“Edinburgh gave me the opportunity to coach again at a higher level . . . the other big appeal was that Edinburgh wasn’t being run by the Scottish Rugby Union. I had no reason to doubt the integrity of the SRU at that time but I didn’t trust any governing body.

“Bob and Alex were rugby men (who) had played at the amateur level, had empathy for the game. Alex had a recruitment business but it was a little more difficult to pin down how Bob had earned his fortune.

“Scottish rugby was in turmoil as the SRU was desperately short of money. They had to fund three professional teams as they were still running the Borders. I don’t think they (Carruthers) ever expected to make money but they would get the lifestyle of rugby owners and there was some thought that they would recoup by using Murrayfield as a concert venue.

“The first problem surrounded bar takings and the brothers said they should be receiving that money. The SRU said that was never the deal. People tell me its likely the SRU were right.

“That caused the SRU to wonder if the new owners had money. The problem was the SRU were so desperate to get Edinburgh off their books the deal was completed in about six weeks.

“No way proper negotiations had taken place.

“The SRU, it was claimed, were slow in handing over money from the League and Heineken Cup. The brothers said they’d take over Edinburgh provided the SRU maintained Glasgow and Borders.

“In March 2007 the SRU announced it was closing Borders and all money pumped into Glasgow. Edinburgh were 
pretty upset.

“I could see the writing on the wall for Edinburgh.

“Some of the good players were being sold off, big earners were being touted to reduce the wage bill. That wasn’t going to help me.

“As a result the brothers decided they would stick to the letter of the contract regarding release of players for the Scotland squad going to the 2007 World Cup. The Edinburgh players weren’t released until a week and a half into the 
preparations.

“Naturally it wasn’t long before one side was threatening the other. Eventually lawyers kept the whole thing to a 
sensible level and the SRU handed over the amount put in and took back control.

“My contract was simply 
terminated. No-one from the SRU said anything. I found out from Alex Carruthers.

“Nobody bothered to tell me.

“I suppose results didn’t help but that was hardly the fault of the coaching staff and the way the players were being taken away. Others were critical of my methods saying I was too old school. It had worked everywhere else and would work again.

“Have my successors had much more success? I think not and that is because of the 
system.”

Howells went on to coach the Doncaster Knights and the 
Romanian national rugby team.

• Despite the Knock-backs, the autobiography of Lynn Howells, is available from www.ylolfa.com, price £9.95.