Tonight's rugby news as legendary former England coach dies and Wales star can be 'devastating'

Regan Grace during training
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)

These are your evening rugby headlines on Wednesday, July 3.

Former England coach dies

Former England and Bath head coach Jack Rowell has died at the age of 87.

Rowell coached England between 1994 to 1997, overseeing 21 victories in 29 Tests and leading the Red Roses to a World Cup semi-final appearance against New Zealand in 1995. Taking charge of players including Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott, he also led England to Five Nations titles in 1995 and 1996, including one Grand Slam.

Before taking up the England job, Rowell also transformed Bath into giants of the domestic club game, winning five league titles under his leadership. The club have paid tribute to the "inspirational" former coach following his death on Monday, saying his achievements will "never be equalled".

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In a statement, Bath Rugby said: "It is with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of former Bath Rugby head coach and club president Jack Rowell on Monday 1 July. Jack Rowell, all 6ft 7in of him, was a towering figure in the history of Bath and English rugby, a unique character who will never be equalled for his extraordinary achievements as a visionary, astute strategist and inspirational coach.

"From his arrival in the summer of 1978 to his departure at the end of yet another trophy-laden season in 1994 to coach England, Jack had set about creating and sustaining an unstoppable force in domestic rugby. On behalf of everyone at Bath Rugby, we extend our deepest condolences to Jack's family and loved ones during this difficult time. Rest in peace, Jack."

England head coach Steve Borthwick, who worked with Rowell at Bath in the early 2000s, has also paid tribute to him, praising his "enormous contribution" to English rugby. He said: "We are saddened to hear of the passing of Jack Rowell and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. As a player at Bath, I had the privilege of working with him when he was director of rugby.

"He left a huge impression on me, not only as someone with incredible rugby knowledge, but also a fantastic man. His contribution to English rugby was enormous, and he will be sorely missed."

Grace can be 'devastating' for Wales

By Graham Thomas

Regan Grace has been backed to become a “devastating” attacking weapon for Wales – even though he has yet to play a competitive game of rugby union.

The bold prediction has come from one of the first wings to switch codes from league to union, former Cardiff star Anthony Sullivan. Grace could make his Wales debut in Saturday’s first Test against Australia in Sydney if he makes the squad which is due to be announced by Warren Gatland at midnight (UK) on Wednesday.

If not, he is likely to figure in the second Test a week later in Melbourne, even though the 27-year-old’s only experience in the 15-man game is two friendly matches earlier this year for Bath. Sullivan – who won two caps under former Wales coach Graham Henry - said: “One of Regan’s key strengths is that he can get his side onto the front foot. If he can do that, then both he and Wales will be onto a good thing.

“Both games have changed significantly over the past 25 years, but wing is still probably the easiest position in which to make the switch between the two codes. There aren’t that many differences these days. I watch a lot of rugby league and union and like to see myself as a student of both games. The back three functions in both codes are much more closely linked now than they used to be and you always have to think ahead.

“Regan is used to taking high balls and cross field kicks and can be devastating in broken field play. He also showed at St Helens that he has a willingness to go looking for the ball, which is something I probably didn’t do enough of in either code. Regan is in a more advantageous position than I was because he grew up in rugby union before heading north in his teens. I’d never played any 15-a-side rugby before I joined Cardiff.

“His core skills are good, he’s quick, an excellent finisher, and he’s coming out of one highly professional rugby environment and moving into another. I had Clive Griffiths as defence coach to help me in the Wales set-up, and Regan has Mike Forshaw.”

Sullivan was one of the last rugby league converts into Welsh rugby along with Iestyn Harris at the turn of the century. Now it is Grace’s turn to try to make the grade coming the same way. Sullivan, who like Grace played for St. Helens, won two caps under Henry in 2001 before heading back to league. But he believes there should be nothing to stop Grace making a successful transition.

He added: “As (Wales forwards coach) Jonathan Humphreys said the other day ‘he’s a rugby player.’ They will have the skills within their coaching environment to build on his talent and potential to ensure they get the best out of him. The basis to playing wing in league or union is to win the contact when you have the ball in hand. He can do that.”

Grace will be coming into a team which is in total rebuild mode under Gatland and has suffered seven straight defeats. The Welsh record for most successive defeats is 10 from November 2002 to August 2003.

It’s only nine months since Wales hammered Australia, 40-6, in France at the World Cup. But Welsh bookmakers DragonBet make Wales 9/2 outsiders to beat the Wallabies on Saturday, with the Aussies firm favourites at 1/6. With a start of 12.5, Wales are priced near even money at 5/6. The draw is 22/1.

North reveals departure date

George North's move to France is imminent, with the Wales legend revealing he's making the move to the continent in less than a fortnight.

The centre, who hung up his international boots at the end of the Six Nations, is currently in the middle of a rehab programme, having suffered a significant injury in his last outing in a Wales shirt.

North was playing for his country for the final time in their clash against Italy in Cardiff when he ruptured his Achilles. Back in May he provided an update on his recovery, saying on social media: "There is no boot. Came out of it last week. Feels good. Started calf loading. Appointment with the surgeon [today]."

North signed a deal to join Provence in the French second division for the next season, and practising a bit of the language he posted as part of a message on X: "LE GRAND DÉPART DANS MOINS DE DEUX SEMAINES," which translates as "the big departure in less than two weeks".

In terms of a comeback date, North would appear to be some way off that, such was the severity of his injury.

Although he has retired form international rugby, Wales boss Warren Gatland has said he held a conversation with North over a potential return as the coach looks to build his squad towards the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

"I did have a conversation with George North and try to leave the door open to him, depending on what happens in France," he told The Rugby Pod. "I think he would have loved the opportunity to stay in Wales if there was something on the table for him, but unfortunately there wasn't. He's got to recover from his Achilles injury."