Next England rugby coach: Could a foreigner revive Red Rose?


Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | November 12, 2015

English rugby is haunted by its recent past. To go from Rugby World Cup winners in 2003 to the first host nation to fail in their bid to advance from the pool stage a dozen years later is damning evidence of backwards steps.

Red Rose head coach Stuart Lancaster paid the price for that failure in front of an adoring public this autumn, yet Coral still make rudderless England favourites to respond by winning the 2016 Six Nations at 2/1.

They are only narrowly fancied ahead of equal 11/4 chances Wales and Ireland, however, who, like fellow British Isles nation Scotland, are coached by foreigners and have denied England success in the annual competition for the last four years.

If the Red Rose cannot beat its rivals, then why not join them and follow suit with their coaching approach? Lacklustre displays in crunch clashes with Wales and Australia during the Rugby World Cup highlight how blind faith in patriotism alone doesn’t bring success.

“Global search”

It’s taken a low point like losing on the biggest stage for that sobering realisation to set in for the RFU. CEO Ian Ritchie’s pledge to conduct a “global search” to replace Lancaster appears more than a mere soundbite to placate the public and soothe wounded national pride.

“We’re looking for a head coach with international experience,” Ritchie revealed. “Speed [of appointing a new boss] is important, but the right person is even more important.

“I don’t think we should be inhibited. It doesn’t rule out a foreign coach, it doesn’t rule out an English coach. The nationality is not important, getting the right coach is important.

“This is still one of the biggest jobs in world rugby coaching. The resources we put behind the head coach is significant; there’s a group of talented players that he has to work with and it is an attractive job.”

Mallinder heads domestic options

Appointing another homegrown coach remains an option the RFU are clearly keeping open, but they seem to at last understand the wisdom of casting their net wider.

Northampton Saints’ Jim Mallinder would be the outstanding English candidate to take the Red Rose on at 7/1, but he is less than 18 months into a five-year contract signed in the summer of 2014.

There has been sustained success since 2007 at Saints, however, with Mallinder taking them to four major trophies – hence his new deal and thus the RFU will have to cough up compensation to get him.

What Mallinder and Bath Rugby boss Mike Ford (also 7/1 to be next England coach despite apparently ruling himself out) both lack, though, is international experience of being head man.

Both have had previous involvement in the Red Rose setup, but as academy boss and in the background as defensive coach respectively rather than making the big decisions.

Bearing the paucity of English options and what the RFU have said in mind, here are some foreign candidates who could work their magic on the Red Rose and revive them.

Jake White

The early and firm 5/2 favourite to take over as England coach is the man who masterminded their defeat in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final. White’s success with the Springboks is still well remembered, as it prevented the Red Rose from winning back-to-back tournaments.

He picks and chooses his jobs nowadays. White’s year Down Under with the Brumbies (2012/13) saw him scoop the Australian Conference Championship and just come up short in the Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby.

The following season saw White return to South Africa with the Sharks where similar domestic dominance ensued. Currently in charge of French outfit Montpellier, the England opportunity may appeal even more.

Eddie Jones

Aussie coach Jones pulled no punches in his criticism of Lancaster, labelling him “a rookie”. And compared to the outgoing Japan boss, ex-South Africa assistant and former Wallabies chief, he probably is.

Jones masterminding a sensational win over old employers the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup was one of the biggest shocks in the history of this sport. He has agreed to coach Cape Town team the Stormers in next year’s Super Rugby, however, and that is reflected in his 6/1 price.

With over 20 years of experience across four continents in a trophy-laden career, it’s just a case of whether the allure of another national job proves irresistible to Jones, though Saracens supporters had little to show for his time in charge there.

Michael Cheika

An incredible first year in charge of Australia has resulted in reports Down Under claiming World Rugby Coach of the Year incumbent Cheika has been lined up to succeed Lancaster. Under him, the Wallabies followed up a Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship crown by making the Rugby World Cup final.

The Aussies’ successful 2015 has been built on a marked improvement in the scrum and an enhanced ability to win possession back, because of excellent breakdown work done by Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

Cheika, a 10/1 chance to be named next England coach, is only under contract until midway through the next Rugby World Cup cycle. The ARU must remedy this, as the RFU are likely to offer a deal to their new man that goes up until the autumn of 2019.

Poach a coach from Six Nations rivals?

It cannot have escaped English rugby fans’ notice how much Ireland, Scotland and Wales have made respective improvements under foreign coaches.

With the RFU keeping an open mind, the three New Zealanders coaching their nearest rivals could be pursued. Joe Schmidt (20/1 to be next England boss) remains committed to Ireland, but has reached a watershed in that nation’s rugby history embodied by Paul O’Connell being stretchered off against France at the World Cup.

The Irish have to replace their legendary lock and more besides, so the passing of the torch between generations holds no guarantee of being smooth.

Schmidt’s old Bay of Plenty boss Vern Cotter, meanwhile, has transformed Scotland from recipients of the Six Nations wooden spoon into the British Isles outfit that arguably gave the best account of themselves this autumn.

Cotter, a 16/1 shot to come south of Hadrian’s Wall, was hired by the Scots to oversee precisely this sort of rebuilding job. He will thus be targeting further improvement from the Tartan team after that agonising and controversial single point loss in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals to Australia.

Wales boss Warren Gatland, meanwhile, has seen injuries check any ambitions he might’ve had of building on back-to-back Six Nations successes in 2012 an 2013. He’s the Kiwi with the most international experience of those three currently coaching in Britain, having previously been in charge of Ireland.

A 14/1 chance to ditch the Dragons for the Red Rose, it’s only a question of whether frustrations have set in over the number of Welsh rugby stars on the treatment table that might tempt Gatland to move along the M4.


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