Ten consecutive defeats later he was on his bike and from January 1996 to April 1997 the former Welsh international Mark Ring had a go. The team carried on where they had left off under Forster and went through the then Courage League without a point – 18 defeats out of 18 matches.Even the introduction of a host of Wales players failed to improve West’s fortunes and they managed only three wins the following season In stepped Mike Brewer, the former All Black, in April 1997. He got them out of Premiership Two at the first attempt, only to march them straight back down last year. Desperate measures as the end drew nigh saw half the players taking pay cuts, the rest going part-time.Into this mess stepped Stabler. He had been ditched by Brewer in 1997 and had gone to Redcar, whom he guided from North East Three to One in successive seasons. He is under no illusions about what confronts him, nor does he delude himself about what can be achieved.
“I don’t think there is a place in the town for a Premiership One side,” he said. “Second division rugby is a more realistic aim, but the gap between One and Two is growing bigger all the time.”Then, of course, there is the support. The sale of West’s Brierton Lane to their then president Phillip Yuill in July 1998 – it has subsequently become a housing estate – proved unpopular. The pounds 1m raised went towards servicing the existing debt.West began a groundshare with the football club Hartlepool United, where rent was around pounds 100,000 for the season and even diehard supporters found it unpalatable to watch their rugby there. Rovers stepped in and, for a far more realistic pounds 20,000 for the season, West at least have somewhere to change, play and have a beer afterwards.
Now they just have to establish themselves again on the playing front That huge task begins today.. AT A TIME when the high streets are braced for the festive rush, it seems somehow appropriate that Zinzan Brooke should be doing some stock- taking of his own in the west end of London. The great No 8, who retired his beloved All Blacks jersey in 1997 after a decade as an automatic selection, is now less than two months short of his 35th birthday, which will also mark the second anniversary of his arrival as Harlequins’ player-coach.
But although he is wrestling with several issues – how to balance the dual responsibilities of playing and coaching for a notoriously underachieving club, how the northern hemisphere game should really be run – he is adamant that if he had his time again he would change nothing on a personal basis.”I made the decision in 1996 to retire from international rugby within a year after the All Blacks won in South Africa Winning a Test series in South Africa was my last ambition. I never regretted my decision but during the World Cup just gone I felt I could have been out there doing a job.”New Zealand certainly missed his strength and authority when they were overwhelmed by France in that thrilling semi-final at Twickenham, but Brooke said: “The feeling passed. I’m enjoying playing still, but it’s hard to be both player and coach. After a week of coaching, I’m running out to do my best on the pitch.”Which is where the irritations start. Quins’ 22-19 defeat at home by Treviso in the European Cup after leading 19-3 last weekend confounded Brooke, especially after his delight with their 32-32 draw in Cardiff in the previous game.”You just can’t afford to lose from that position,” he said.