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Who should succeed Eddie Jones as England coach?

Succession plan: Eddie Jones is due to step down as England coach after RWC 2019. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

Eddie Jones has three years left on his England deal but talk of who will succeed him is doing the rounds and Premiership bosses could be left out in the cold


From the day Eddie Jones arrived at Twickenham on his white charger to rescue English rugby before Christmas, it has always been known that he will be off to watch cricket in Barbados after the 2019 World Cup.

Unless he does a massive reverse ferret on that one, and gives up the hammock and cocktails, he will need to be replaced – but who by and is the Aviva Premiership a decent breeding ground for England coaches? Not according to the RFU apparently, and some of the blokes working in the league are not impressed.

A personal view is the RFU should tell Rob Baxter he’s got the job from 2019, and get him on the summer tour to Argentina next year, but they haven’t taken any notice of me in two decades so that one is probably down the gurgler. That is unless they can persuade Jones to change his mind.

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The RFU would prefer the next coach to be an Englishman, although he doesn’t have to be. But the new boss must have international experience, which rules out a few highly experienced Premiership coaches and directors of rugby, and will probably leave the union in a panic when Jones goes unless one of his assistants steps up. It also throws a light on what the RFU are doing to develop English coaches compared to other countries – particularly New Zealand.

Forward march: Billy Vunipola on the attack for England against Australia in June. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

Nigel Melville, now the RFU’s director of professional rugby, said: “I think it’s proved that just being a Premiership coach does not necessarily make you a good international coach. We need to give our coaches a menu of opportunities, not just day-to-day coaching in the Premiership. It isn’t going to necessarily create the next England coach.”

In English club rugby there are a few Englishmen with international experience. Sale’s Steve Diamond coached Russia and the Saxons, Jim Mallinder and Dorian West at Northampton were involved with the Saxons, as was Exeter’s Ali Hepher in the summer, along with Saints’ Alan Dickens, and Baxter, boss at the Chiefs, coached on the England tour to Argentina in 2013 where he was popular with the squad.

Andy Robinson, at Bristol, is probably the most experienced internationally – he has actually done the England job – while Trevor Woodman at Gloucester has worked with the Wallabies and Graham Rowntree is recovering from his international experiences at Harlequins.

Test level: Bristol's Andy Robinson has coached England and Scotland. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

Of the directors of rugby only Diamond, Baxter and Mallinder have had a brush with the international game, so that rules out some pretty big contenders.

Richard Cockerill, DoR at Leicester, is one of them. He has been coaching at Leicester for over a decade but rarely gets a mention when the top job comes up and is scratching his head at the system.

“I joined Leicester back in 2004 (as a coach),” says Cockerill. “I joined the academy and ended up in this role, and I’ve had no help whatsoever from the RFU, in terms of career development or coaching development. I’ve just worked it out with my other coaches and players, and found my own way to this point.

“A lot of that stuff gets done by luck rather than judgment. Do I have to go to Clermont or Toulouse or go and coach the Sunwolves to prove that I can coach? I can understand that their preference is to have international experience, but what exactly is international experience of coaching? Steve Diamond should probably get it then because he’s coached Russia.

“I don’t know what the RFU are doing to develop young English coaches, to take that next step.”

Cockerill has experience of how the All Blacks are doing things and has New Zealanders Aaron Mauger and Scott Hansen on his staff at Welford Road. But that looks like a one-way street; no Englishman could get a job with the world champions.

Long stint: Richard Cockerill has been coaching at Leicester since 2004. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

“I work with two Kiwis and they have a very defined structure within the New Zealand Rugby Union to develop their coaches,” Cockerill added. “They have a pathway for them to step up; taking ITM Cup jobs as assistants or head coaches, to then take Super Rugby jobs and if you look at New Zealand, they probably have half-a-dozen coaches who could step into Steve Hansen’s shoes.

“Aaron took the job at Leicester with the blessing of the Canterbury union, because the New Zealand Rugby Union know he is going to come back and share all those experiences he has had, and he is a 35-year-old who will be a part of the next generation, or two generations’ time, when he gets to his fifties.

“I don’t know the answer. Ian Ritchie seems to have the question, but he doesn’t seem to know the answer. He’s the chief exec of the union. Maybe he should have the answers.

“The impression I’ve been given is that if you are an U16, U18 or U20 coach at the RFU, from that group they will find the next person who will go through and coach England. But generally, those are guys who have been sacked from the Premiership.”

As Mallinder says: “The southern hemisphere are pretty lucky – their coaches can come here and get good experience. I don’t think it’s quite as easy to go the other way.”

Baxter also made a good point when he said the RFU don’t know if appointing an experienced Premiership coach works because they have never tried it.

Chief experience: Exeter's Rob Baxter worked with England on the 2013 tour to Argentina. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

“Where is this example of an established Premiership coach failing as the England coach?” asks Baxter. “That’s the counter argument. Not to talk about myself, but guys like Richard Cockerill and Jim Mallinder – there are Premiership coaches with eight, nine or ten years of success. There are guys who’ve played and managed in top European competitions and have managed countless international players.

“Not one of them has been the England coach, so where’s the failure that says that guys must go away and get international experience? It’s like they’re arguing about something they’ve never even tried to do. Until that failure happens, why try to find all the issues for it?”

Baxter is right – he usually is – but we will probably find a foreigner being given the England job when it becomes available. I bet the RFU are hoping his name is Eddie Jones and they can persuade him to do the reverse ferret.

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