If Baxter’s a Dog & Mallett’s a Tool, Who Should The Next England Head Coach Be?

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Forget Wayne Smith. He’s on sabbatical and wants to put his family first. Forget Eddie Jones. He’s just signed a contract with the Stormers in South Africa; even Fabian Delph wouldn’t do a U-turn that quickly.

Then there’s Steve Hansen. Forget him. Why would anyone want to leave the All Blacks? The only way is down. And while we’re talking about Kiwis, you can rule out Graham Henry too. He’s far too busy helping Argentina and perfecting his frown.

So who exactly wants the England job? I’d do it (if the money’s right) but I don’t have the ‘international experience’ the suits at Twickenham covet. Neither do any of the pukka English candidates – except Dean Ryan, who briefly helped Scotland a couple of years ago with Scott Johnson. But Dean Ryan doesn’t want the job either. He loves life in sunny Worcester and wants nothing to do with rugby politics.

Ian Ritchie probably thought he’d have a list of candidates as long as his arm on Wednesday. But maybe the lure of the red rose – and let’s not forget that roses have a fair few pricks – isn’t as strong as he thought. As the initial shortlist has been decimated within 36 hours, here are your remaining runners and riders …

Jake White (Montpellier) 

Won the World Cup with South Africa in 2007 and was a leading candidate when Lancaster got the job in 2012. He’s expressed his interest in the role once more, but only if the RFU are “genuine”. What does this mean? “If they really think I’m the man”. White has no appetite to go through the same elongated procedures again, just to be rejected.

Would you want him?

He’d be a step up from Lancaster but a step down from everyone else. His teams play quite attritional rugby, with a big emphasis on forward power and a strong set piece, so there’s very little sex appeal. Has international rugby moved on since 2007? Probably.

Odds of getting the job?

I sense they’re high. Appointing someone several years too late, when the world has moved on, seems right up the RFU’s street.

Warren Gatland (Wales)

Gatland is probably the best coach in the northern hemisphere. He’s won grand slams with Wales, coached the Lions to victory, and knows English rugby inside out: he won the Premiership three times with Wasps, and was brilliant in Europe too – winning both the European Challenge Cup and the Heineken Cup.

Promisingly Gatland hasn’t ruled himself out of the running yet. He’s made a joke about England not being able to afford him – which had a ‘give me a fat pay cheque and I might be interested’ vibe to it – and a report in today’s bastion of authenticity, The Daily Mail, claims he’s open to an offer. Hmmm.

Would you want him?

Hell yes.

Odds of getting the job?

Tempting Gatland with huge piles of dosh seems like a logical move for the RFU. It would also be sweet revenge for the events of 15th March 2013 (30-3) and 26th September 2015 (28-25). However, I’m not sure whether he’s enough of a turncoat to do the dirty on Wales.

Jim Mallinder (Northampton Saints)

Good old Jim. If England was like New Zealand, where coaches actually rise through the ranks before they’re given the international job, Jim would be the big favourite. He’s won two European Challenge Cups (with Sale and Northampton) and won the Premiership too.

However, Mallinder’s Saints teams have also missed out on a few occasions. They reached the Heineken Cup final in 2011, but lost. They also lost the Premiership final in 2013 and got knocked out in the semis last year. A sceptic might see Mallinder as a ‘nearly man’.

Would you want him?

Of the English candidates, perhaps

Odds of getting the job?

Quite low I suspect. The RFU obviously want a glamorous name to succeed Lancaster. Although Mallinder looks like the lead singer of Right Said Fred, I fear the job’s ‘too sexy’ for him rather than the other way around.

Rob Baxter (Exeter Chiefs)

A top man performing wonders at Exeter. There’s just one problem: Exeter is the only place he’s ever worked. Can Baxter be successful elsewhere? Exeter’s success has been phenomenal. Most championship sides get promoted and struggle – Worcester have been relegated twice since they reached the promised land a decade ago – but Baxter’s boys are already part of the furniture.

The problem is that Baxter’s success hasn’t been based on tactical acumen or managing top talent; he’s built Exeter up brick by brick by recruiting shrewdly and getting players to buy into Exeter’s psychology. He’s very much a club man. The England job will be completely different.

Would you want him?

It’s too risky. And ‘Baxter’ is Ron Burgundy’s dog.

Odds of getting the job?

Low. Not even the RFU are daft enough to roll the dice on another unproven quantity. They might see him as Lancaster mark II.

Nick Mallett (A TV Studio Somewhere)

Something of an elder statesman these days, Mallett is invariably linked to the England job whenever it comes up – possibly because he was born in England. He’s very much a South African though, and his hard-nosed style might be a breath of fresh air after Lancaster’s ‘nice guy’ persona. With a name like Mallett, mayhe he can knock some heads together?  …. I’ll get my coat.

Mallett’s issue is that he hasn’t done anything for a long time. He was South Africa’s head coach 15 years ago now, and his spell with Italy wasn’t particularly successful (not that he had much to work with). He’s spent a little time with the Barbarians in recent years, but he’s essentially been a pundit since 2011.

Would you want him?

Not really

Odds on getting the job?

Initially high. Now low. Mallett claimed England phoned him a few weeks but he wasn’t interested. The RFU denied the whole thing. I’m sure leaking this news, if it was true, wouldn’t have endeared him to Ritchie and Co.

Dave Rennie (Waikato Chiefs)

I have to admit that Rennie intrigues me. All the other home nations have appointed a Kiwi, and improved their fortunes, so why not England? The RFU won’t be able to convince Joe Schmitd to leave Ireland, and it will be expensie to buy Warren Gatland out of his contract, so why not appoint the next New Zealander off the rank?

Rennie is the head coach of the Chiefs in the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition. He has a fantastic reputation, having coached the All Black’s U20s to three consecutive World Cups, and the Chiefs to Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.

Do We Want Him?

Sod it. Why not

Odds on getting the job?

Slender but not size zero. Rennie doesn’t have ‘international experience’ in the traditional sense, but he does have considerable southern hemisphere experience. That’s got to be a plus.

Jamie Joseph (Highlanders)

Joseph is another name on people’s lips. Much like Rennie he’s a Kiwi who’s done well in Super Rugby. He led the Highlanders to the title this year. He’s also been successful as head coach of the New Zealand Maoris – who would probably beat a lot of northern hemisphere sides.

Do we want him?

I’m in two minds. He’s only 45. That’s a few weeks younger than Lancaster.

Odds of getting the job?

Highly unlikely, but it depends whether he’s interested and who is whispering into Ian Ritchie’s ear. Joseph has his admirers.

Michael Cheika (Australia)

Now this is more like it. Cheika is the type of heavyweight the RFU crave. He’s been a successful coach in both hemispheres – winning a Heineken Cup with Leinster and a Super Rugby crown with the Waratahs. He’s also turned Australia’s fortunes around rapidly.

Cheika is a larger than life character and an experienced operator. He’s been everywhere except Stade Francais, where some off-field aggro undermined him.

Do we want him:

Duh! Is Sonny Bill Williams a big fella?

Odds on getting the job?

Ticks all the boxes except possibly the most important one (as far as the RFU are concerned). Cheika gives it to people straight and doesn’t suffer fools lightly. If he goes to the RFU and demands the right to pick Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon – much like he did with Matt Giteau – he could become England’s shortest serving manager of all time.

Honourable mentions: Robbie Deans (no thanks), Mike Ford (no thanks), Richard Cockerill (definitely no thanks), Sir Clive Woodward (yeah right).

James Morgan

10 Comments

  1. The Jake White comment about “genuine” stems from the work of the recruitment agency in 2008 and 2012. The first time round he was happy enough to be shortlisted and even though he disagreed with decision to go with Martin Johnson, he understood why. The second time around he felt he was just used, along with Mallett and Jones, to produce a good looking shortlist that would allow the RFU to claim that they had scoured the globe for the best, before settling for the English coach that was already in their employ.

    Mallett has ruled himself out completely. He’s 59 now and feels that’s too old to start a 4-year or 8-year campaign. Four years ago would have been ideal, not now. The mystery RFU approach seems to have been a misinterpretation of a remark he made, something along the lines of having a phone conversation (with not the RFU) and how he responded to it.

    My own preference is Jim Mallinder. The New Zealand system of growing coaches in domestic rugby, rising to the top half/third of the premiership and then promoting them to national duty seems the model to follow. How can we ever get there if we never pick one that has followed that route? Anyway, I like the style of rugby that his team plays – almost equal emphasis on power and pace.

    • I think there’s definitely a case for Mallinder, especially with the right assistant.

      Re: White I got the impression last night (when he spoke to Sky) that you’re exactly right. They made him jump through hoops only to employ the incumbent. It must have seemed very predictable.

  2. On the SH side:

    Can’t see why Cheika would want to come here after he’s turned Australia back into something like a good side. For all the guff about “promising talent at the U20 level” & “a core of young players in the senior team” in England, at this moment you can’t honestly say they really are a better bet for 2019 than Aus.

    Rennie has the profile that most makes sense – but the word is he’s in with a good shout for the All Blacks when Hansen retires, so he may want to stay down there.

    Joseph’s CV is almost comparable, but the Maoris didn’t play that many games in his tenure (not his fault, but still.) His playing experience in Japan shows some flexibility, but overall I don’t think you can rank his CV far above Mallinder.

    I only saw bits of Brumbies and Sharks under White, but they were more flexible than the Springbok sides under White, so maybe we judge him too quickly. Love to hear from someone who saw more of those teams.

    Gatland – not sure if he’s serious or just using it to get some more concessions out of the WRU. Stated he wants to go back to NZ in 2019. However, I also think you have to balance his Grand Slams and Lions squads full of Welshmen with the poor results against SH teams and the limited gameplans he has been using. One of the failings of both RFU and fans across the NH has been to think that the 6N is a true yardstick. If the RFU want to grow the game, they have to have more ambition than that – and so playing SH sides has to be the litmus test.

    I have some sympathy with both Mallinder and Ryan in that the playoffs distract us from the serious achievement of league consistency. Still, Europe is a thing – but no English coach has done well there for a number of years, which has to be in part about the way different nations domestic schedule & salary regs set up the competition. With that proviso about Europe, I wonder if Conor O’Shea is worth a look – he likes the attacking style and has won the playoffs. Of course, danger there is he might feel loyal to Robshaw…

    I’m biased because I’ve heard him talk on a number of occasions, but I think Shaun Edwards has a really keen rugby brain. He’s got a lot of international experience and I think England should think hard about offering him the chance to step up. All the more so because I think that there’s been a lot of concentration on someone who will make better selection/substitution/tactical choices than Lancaster did, but we need a builder too. There’s a lot of guff about “talent at U20 level” etc. but we’re not currently on a physical or skill level with the SH teams.

    • I think Richards might be lucky to have any kind of job in a few weeks if you look poor Newcastle’s form. I did think about him, but his ‘interesting’ past might put the RFU off.

  3. Glad you left Vern Cotter off your list – though I doubt he’d be prepared to take the nuclear option of crossing the Border …

  4. You can rule out Cheika.
    Firstly, why leave the Wallabies when the job is only half done and they’re in a better position to win in 2019 than we are?
    Secondly – anyone going straight from the Wallabies job to England would get absolutely destroyed here. It’s a jump that you just don’t make – at least not without a few years in between. Cheika doesn’t strike me as the sort to jump ship in that fashion just for a fistful of RFU loot.
    Similarly Gatland. Why undo years of goodwill in Wales with an acrimonious walk to the old enemy? Can’t see it.
    I’d be inclined to give the job to Mallinder and bed him in long term – but I suppose that was the same logic that produced Lancaster. Otherwise? Eddie Jones.

  5. “Forget Eddie Jones”

    I imagine it will be easier to buy out Eddie than Warren.

    Gatland doesn’t excite me. He can be a stubborn and conservative selector and I’ve had enough of that over the past 12 years!

    Mallinder seems to have stalled at Saints. Looked so good a year ago but not kicked on and haven’t recruited well.

    White is a bit hit and miss, but I appreciate his pragmatism. He recognised his limitations with the Boks and recruited Jones and rest is history. At the Brumbies he had Larkham as his attack coach, now with Cheika, so he has a good track record in picking a good coaching team, something messers Robinson, Ashton, Johnson and Lancaster failed to do IMO.

    • Good point Benjit. Re: Jones it’s just that he’s only just started in his new job. There was a presser last week, so he’d look pretty stupid if he jumped ship a few days later.

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