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Tuesday, February 24, 1998 Published at 20:47 GMT

Sport: Rugby Union

Gatland takes over as Ireland coach
image: [ Brian Ashton's departure leaves Ireland's rugby hopes in tatters ]
Brian Ashton's departure leaves Ireland's rugby hopes in tatters

The former All Black Warren Gatland has been appointed Ireland's new national coach following the resignation of Brian Ashton.

The Irish Rugby Football union announced that 34-year-old Gatland, Connacht's director of rugby, has been put in charge for the rest of Ireland's Five Nations campaign.

Gatland, who steered Connacht to a European Conference quarter-final this season, said: "I am delighted to have been offered this opportunity.

"I am well familiar with the Irish rugby scene having lived and played here on and off since I first came to reland with the 1989 All Blacks, and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Gatland played 17 games for the All Blacks between 1988 and 1991 and was reserve hooker to Sean Fitzpatrick on the British tour of 1989.

Outgoing coach Ashton replaced the New Zealander Murray Kidd just before last season's Five Nations Championship and subsequently agreed a six-year contract.

But his dispute with the Ireland team manager, Pat Whelan, has grown increasingly public and Ashton felt that he could no longer continue at the helm.

[ image: Ashton's only success in the Five Nations was against Wales last February]
Ashton's only success in the Five Nations was against Wales last February
Ashton, who served notice to quit on the Irish Rugby Football Union last Friday, said in an IRFU statement: "I have decided to resign, with regret, for personal reasons. I offer best wishes to the IRFU and the Irish team."

His decision comes at the worst possible time for Ireland, who lost their Five Nations opener against Scotland two weeks ago and still have to face the championship favourites France in Paris and England at Twickenham.

Ashton, a highly rated coach, has openly admitted that he misses the day-to-day activities of club management.

It is unlikely that he would return to the European champions, Bath, but a senior role in the Allied Dunbar Premiership could well come his way before long.

Little success

During his short time in charge, Ashton saw Ireland win just one Five Nations Test from five starts, beating Wales 26-25 in Cardiff.

Defeats came against France, Scotland and England - the latter a record 46-6 loss in Dublin.

This term, Ashton supervised a pre-Christmas Dublin victory over Canada, but there were further defeats by New Zealand, Italy, and Scotland.

Ashton was unable to take charge of the national squad's training session in Dublin last week because of an attack of shingles.

The President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, Niall Brophy, said: "The union regrets Brian Ashton's resignation. I thank him for his contribution to Irish rugby and wish him well."


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