A-ha! Looks like I've beaten the passage of time to this article, by the skin of my teeth.
The first part of my look at the changes to make within England rugby were focused on the coaches who might succeed the fallen bomber (AKA Lancaster), and right on cue some loudmouth has now declared that Eddie Jones is about to be offered the gig. Ignoring that potentially inevitable development, I've taken a look at some of the main candidates and weighed up the pros and cons to put together a hit team to take on the best in the world. I've also ignored various declarations of non-interest* or sabbaticals because, when an RFU man starts waving his fat cheque book around in your face, you might find that your 'year-off' can actually wait a couple more years.
So, without further ado, let's see who's on the radar....
*As an aside, I think that it's bang out of line for English coaches to say they don't want the national job. Your country is calling. It should be like conscription.
Any candidate's automatic response to an RFU approach
Eddie Jones. Got one of the best CVs on the list, without a doubt. Took a less-than-classic Wallabies side to a World Cup final, played an important role in South African success four years later, and then worked some serious magic with Japan this time around. Don't mention his catastrophic stint with the Reds, but otherwise old Eddie has a cracking achievements list. The only concerns are that he comes across as a bit of a big-mouthed git on occasion - but maybe England need a bit more arrogance - he's pretty structured in his tactics and he's keen on central contracts. Which will make him about as popular as the Sheriff of Nottingham with the Merry Men. The RFU has been working for years at establishing a positive relationship with the clubs - would they put that at risk to get their man?
Jake White. Another man with an impressive CV to his name, his name sits next a World Cup win, which none of the foreign candidates can boast, after bringing home the bacon for the Springboks in 2007. Since then, he's gone under the radar a bit up north, but he's done some good things in Super Rugby - taking the Brumbies to a Final and the Sharks to a semi-Final - and has now re-appeared with Montpellier who, unfortunately for him, are looking bloody average in the Top 14 and pants in Europe at precisely the time he wants to be presenting himself in the shop window. White's success is impressive by himself but he does have a perhaps unfair reputation of favoring an eye-bleedingly boring kick-chase game, which fans won't want. He also has a more proven track-record of job-hopping, especially when the pressure comes on...which doesn't bode well for an England coach.
Wayne Smith. The way Wayne Smith is spoken about in the Northern Hemisphere, you'd think he was Yoda. To be fair, he might be. He's a man who shies away from the limelight somewhat, making his name as an assistant coach rather than a head-honcho, but when that assistant role is 'backs-coach' to the All Blacks, that makes you the best thing since Scarlet Johansson. Having orchestrated the best backline in the world for the best part of a decade, it's no wonder the RFU have been scrambling over each other to beg Wayne to work some magic with some of the talent on the English books. He's more of an unknown quantity as a head-coach and tactician though, and he has of course stated he's taking a break from rugby and so isn't interested. Hmm. We'll see if you still want to take a break when the moneybags at the RFU start to reach a bit deeper into the pocket.
Michael Cheika. There's no doubt the big guy is a special coach. A Heineken Cup with Leinster, a Super Rugby title with the Waratahs, and now with the Wallabies he's masterminded a transformation greater than Augustus Gloop's after his trip through the pipes at the Chocolate Factory. He's passionate, he's tough and bloody smart too - but he's the only one on this list who I think wouldn't leave even with a wedge as big as the blazers at the RFU can offer. He's a proud Aussie, and I get the sense he's just getting started on a very special project.
Warren Gatland. I was pretty surprised to hear Gat's name thrown about. Don't get me wrong, he's done a great job with Wales and, let's be frank, he's won more titles than any England coach has. But considering how much stick he gets from the English about his mind-games, his Warren-ball gameplan and his general obnoxious personality, can you really see him being a popular appointment with fans? If he left Wales for England, too, it's safe to say he wouldn't be able to visit again.
|If you leave Wales, Warren, the hand needs to be the other way round|
Phillipe Saint-Andre. Hahaha. Just kidding. Although the RFU have said they're looking for a coach with 'international experience'. Imagine if he was in charge. We'd have Dan Cole at fly-half with Martin Johnson coming out of retirement to play at openside flanker.
Sir Clive Woodward. Clive likes to work his gob on what's wrong with England compared to 'the good old days' when anyone makes the mistake of moving a microphone under his chin, but I don't think that he'll fancy putting himself in the firing line again. And, after so long out of the game, would he be up to speed with the way teams play now? Leave the legacy where it is Clive, and remain the way we want to remember you - a brilliant, inventive coach and manager; an unbearably smug pundit.
Rob Baxter. Moving into the coaches with no international experience, friendly Rob Baxter is top of most people's lists in terms of respect, admiration and 'blokes who seem they'd be alright to have a beer with'. But, wishy-washy stuff aside, Baxter has worked wonders with an Exeter side that hasn't always been blessed with the talent it has now - he's earned a reputation for having a great rugby brain and an ability to bring on young talent such as Slade and Nowell. Even with no international experience, he's surely worth considering.
Jim Mallinder. Just no. Look, he's clearly a very decent coach and has done some good things with Northampton, but whenever the England job gets mentioned I notice his club form falls apart - it did in 2011, it is now. For some reason the way he speaks annoys me, which isn't a valid reason for not employing someone I know, but when someone is renowned as being a tough task-master (as he is) I just wish they came out and acted as the a-hole we all know they are, rather than putting on a faux-friendly persona. Plus he looks like Lord Voldemort.
Richard Cockerill. In some ways he's very similar to his arch-rival, Jim, above. Except he is openly a bit of an a-hole. Which I quite like. But still a no for me - the last two seasons have shown that unless he has someone with a creative spark holding his hand, his teams tend to get stuck in the mud.
Dean Richards. The big man would have been surely been a target for the job back in 2011 if only blood-gate hadn't occurred. As it stands, he's done a fine job with Newcastle but he's still yet to discover the mojo he had at Leicester and Harlequins. He'd be a PR disaster for the RFU, but he would instill a hard-nosed edge and bear-sized hands to the England set-up.
Me. Probably the dark horse of the candidates, I sent an application to the RFU which simply consisted of a picture of the William Webb Ellis Cup with the words "2019 - England GUARANTEED" scrawled across it, along with several photographs of England players with my head super-imposed on top so they'd think I had experience of the international game. I've yet to hear back from them, which I assume means I've made it down to the final selection, given the absence of any formal rejection. I'd bring enthusiasm and below-average chat to the job, which is - I'm sure we'd all agree - what the Country needs now.
So who's next?
Well, it looks like it will be Eddie Jones - and I think that is a very decent call. He's got the CV and his work with Japan was brilliant - plus, he already has experience of the English game, having worked with Saracens and (here's a little-known fact for you) played briefly for Leicester in 1992. The fact of the matter is that there are no quality English coaches with international experience out there at the moment and it's become so apparent that we're playing catch-up with the Southern Hemisphere that getting one of the enemy's own in is not only sensible, but probably essential. Let's hope
However, what I'd like to see is a group of young English coaches working under him and learning from him. We had three young assistant coaches before, but they were learning off a bloke who hadn't managed internationally before as well - so there was no passing on of knowledge. I've said previously that all of the old regime needs to step aside - and I stand by that - but there are plenty of other guys out there who could do a great job.
Head Coach: Eddie Jones.
Forwards Coach: Rob Baxter.
Backs Coach: Alex King - coached Clermont, which is enough for anyone.
Skills Coach: Austin Healey - seems to know it all. Let's put that to the test.