The tasks and fixtures facing the next England rugby coach
England responded to their worst year of results since 2008 by sacking Eddie Jones as head coach.
Steve Borthwick is the favourite to take over and here we take a look at the in-tray for the next England rugby coach ahead of the Six Nations.
Forge an identity
England lost their way in the wake of their 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa.
Muddled tactics and scattergun selection were exacerbated by the high turnover of backroom staff, helping to create an identity crisis that really took hold in the 2021 Six Nations.
Beyond commitment and resilience, a confused team lacked any defining characteristics and by the end of the recent autumn series even their fight had drained away. Whoever replaces Jones must immediately provide England with clarity over who and what they are.
Find a renewed sense of purpose
Once the team’s identity is set, a renewed sense of purpose needs to be established. In a departure from the Jones era, shelve talk of the World Cup and instead concentrate on one goal only – winning the Six Nations.
A remarkable admission by Jones in the wake of the 30-29 defeat by Argentina that opened the autumn was that focus had been lost because of his planning for the global event in France that begins in nine months.
Jones’ willingness to sacrifice everything in pursuit of winning the World Cup was harmful to the team and damaging to the relationship with fans, who pay high ticket prices to watch England succeed in the here and now.
Rebuild the foundations
It might not set pulses racing, but restoring the traditional pillars of English strength in defence and the scrum would provide a baseline of being hard to beat – and maybe more.
Both have developed into areas of concern over the last year. The defence is no longer the dominant force seen under John Mitchell, the assistant coach who departed 18 months ago, and the scrum was alarmingly vulnerable in the climax to the autumn against South Africa, capping a poor year in this aspect of England’s set-piece.
Halt the selection carousel
During his seven years in charge, Jones capped 112 players, with 14 of them making only one appearance. The Australian was loyal to a core of senior and established performers, but frequently chopped and changed around the fringes.
Experimenting in selection is a valid part of the job but at times it seemed totally random, with players coming and going for no apparent reason, sometimes never to be seen again, and others inexplicably returning at a later date – just ask Joe Marchant, Ben Earl and Ollie Lawrence.
Reignite the attack
Nowhere is England’s malaise under Jones more apparent than in attack. Scott Wisemantel, the excellent Australian attack coach who departed after the 2019 World Cup, has never been adequately replaced, but 2022 has been especially incoherent with the ball in hand.
At the heart of the problem is the playmaking axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell, which has fired just sporadically to pose the question of how long should England persist with a partnership built on promise only? The new England rugby coach may decide it is either/or at fly-half and simplify the existing approach.
England rugby fixtures
The new coach will have five competitive Tests until the World Cup to reverse the team’s fortunes with the Six Nations getting under way in February.
Beyond the Championship are four warm-up games that will provide opportunities to finalise selection and develop match fitness.
Here is England’s schedule for 2023 before the World Cup opens against Argentina on September 9.
England v Scotland, Twickenham, February 4
Scotland are unpredictable but have lost only one of their last five meetings with England and triumphed at Twickenham in 2021, their first success in London since 1983.
England v Italy, Twickenham, February 12
Italy are showing genuine signs of improvement having won their last two outings against tier one opposition, beating Wales and Australia.
Wales v England, Principality Stadium, February 25
A fascinating contest with Warren Gatland plotting England’s downfall for the first time since beginning his second spell as Wales boss.
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) December 5, 2022
England v France, Twickenham, March 11
The first of successive heavyweight clashes, France are the World Cup hosts and favourites having progressed through 2022 with a perfect record.
Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, March 18
The world’s number one ranked side will be formidable opponents in Dublin, but they have a habit of imploding in World Cup years.
World Cup warm-ups starting against Wales, Principality Stadium, August 5
Although given Test match status, these matches are friendlies with coaches looking to put the finishing touches to selection for their World Cup squads, develop tactics for the tournament and give players time on the field. Two clashes with Wales, Ireland and Fiji are the line-up for August.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication