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Ex Lion Ollie takes charge

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NEW COACH: Ollie Smith, pictured during his playing days at Leicester Tigers Picture: Tigers Images
NEW COACH: Ollie Smith, pictured during his playing days at Leicester Tigers Picture: Tigers Images

Terry Sands insists Jon Clarke’s surprise departure from the club — after less than three months — will not affect preparations for the start of their upcoming campaign, with former British & Irish Lion Ollie Smith coming in to fill the void.

Head coach Clarke was appointed as Gavin Hogg’s successor at the end of April, but this week the Free Press revealed he has left the club — without taking charge of a game — due to ‘family and geographical issues’.

With The Wolfpack’s National League Two South season-opener at home against Tonbridge Juddians on September 2 fast approaching, Clarke’s exit left Bury’s performance director Sands, and pro-am rugby director Kevin Maggs, scrambling to find a replacement.

However, Sands believes Bury have got a ready-made perfect fit in ex-England international Smith, who made more than 180 appearances for Leicester Tigers during his career.

“When the news came back to me with regards to Jon, obviously we were just about to start pre-season, so I was a little bit concerned,” Sands said. “We wanted to make a good start this year.

“Jon joined us in the close season but he unfortunately wasn’t with us long enough to leave too much of a footprint.

“In my view we wanted to bring somebody in who was as good as Jon Clarke, if not better, which wasn’t easy to do when we had very little time to achieve it.

“I spoke to a few people and got some names and a number of CVs came through.

“I spoke to Kevin Maggs and involved him in the process. Myself and Kevin worked very hard.

“Ollie was in our top three who we decided to interview, and when we spoke to Ollie he came across very professional.

“Ollie is very experienced and wants to play the game in a way which we felt we should play, and I’m really looking forward to working with him.”

Smith brings with him a wealth of experience to the Haberden, having enjoyed a 10-year playing career, predominantly as a centre, at the Tigers, Montpellier and Harlequins.

The 2002 Heineken Cup winner rose through the England youth teams at U18, U19 and U21 level, before making five appearances for the senior team between 2003 and 2005.

In 2005, Smith was named in the British & Irish Lions squad for their tour of New Zealand, and scored a try in the warm-up test against Argentina.

A severe knee injury while playing for Harlequins in 2010 cut short his playing career, with Smith then moving into coaching.

After spells as head coach, at Esher, and assistant coach, at London Welsh, Smith was in charge of Barking in London One North last season.

A tough season saw Smith’s charges finish bottom and suffer relegation.