(estimated 5 minute read)
After their worst year of results since 2008 and less than a year until the Rugby World Cup in France, England have dispensed with the services of controversial Head Coach Eddie Jones. With a win rate of just 42% in 2022, which included losing six of 12 games and drawing one, the lack of progress under Jones could no longer be ignored by the RFU hierarchy.
Jones’ continued promises of improvement became as hollow as recent performances but it was ultimately the manor of England’s latest losses which contributed to Jones running out of rope. A turgid, toothless display against Argentina, a flattering win against a poor Japan side, a lucky draw against New Zealand and a humbling, comprehensive defeat against a depleted Springbok team was unacceptable. Perhaps it was the chorus of boos and mass exodus from Twickenham after the South Africa game which was the final straw.
When analysing this poor string of results against the backdrop of Jones’ repeated promises that England would be ready for the Rugby World Cup there was little option other than to relieve Jones of his post.
Despite a very impressive 73%-win rate during his tenure, Jones picked a staggering 112 players in seven years and this perceived lack of confidence in the players at his disposal could well have contributed to a loss of the dressing room. In their appearances in The Green Room during the Autumn Series, England legends Sir Clive Woodward, Lawrence Dallaglio and Will Greenwood all questioned whether the players were indeed still playing for their coach.
With less than a year until the Rugby World Cup and only two months until kick off in the 6 Nations 2023, England must act fast. Their succession planning had already started but a poor Autumn Series and the removal of Jones has only accelerated this process. With the biggest job in English rugby now vacant, we’ve looked at the main runners and riders in the race to lead England rugby into a new era.
The heir apparent to Eddie Jones and the frontrunner in this race. The former Bath, Saracens and England captain has had a stellar start to his coaching career, winning the English Premiership title in just his second season as head coach of Leicester Tigers.
Borthwick also worked with Jones as England forwards coach between 2015 and 2020 and has a very favourable reputation with the RFU. Does Borthwick still garner goodwill from the players and are his methods enough of a departure from Jones’? The answers are yet to be seen but Borthwick is the bookies favourite for the role.
Since retiring from professional rugby in 2013 as Ireland’s leading point scorer of all time, the 128-cap O’Gara has had coaching spells at Racing 92 in France and the Canterbury Crusaders in New Zealand before returning to L’Hexagon to take up the head coaching role with La Rochelle in 2019.
Having defeated Leinster to win the European Champions Cup in 2022, La Rochelle have been praised for their astute game management and miserly defence. O’Gara’s coaching stock has never been higher, but having just penned a new contract with La Rochelle until 2027, it seems highly unlikely the Irish legend will be Jones’ successor.
Kiwi coaching legend Warren Gatland oversaw Wales’ most successful period during his 12-year stint in the principality and many pundits saw the Waikato man as a potential replacement for Eddie Jones.
Having won the 6 Nations Grand Slam with Wales in 2008, 2012 and 2019 as well as coaching the British and Irish Lions to a series win over Australia in 2013, few are better qualified than Gatland take the England helm. However, in a surprising twist of fate which saw Wayne Pivac sacked from the Wales head coach job in December 2022, Gatland opted to return to Wales and thus ruled himself out of contention for the England gig.
Former All Black No.8 Robertson is widely regarded as one of the most forward-thinking, tactically aware coaches in world rugby. Since his retirement from the sport in 2007 and taking up his head coach role with the legendary Canterbury Crusaders in 2016, no club coach in the world has won more titles than Robertson.
In his first three seasons at the Crusaders, Robertson won three consecutive Super Rugby titles becoming the first coach to achieve this feat. In 2020 and 2021, the Crusaders won the covid curbed Super Rugby Aotearoa back-to-back and most recently in 2022, the Crusaders won the maiden Super Rugby Pacific tournament.
Popular with players and fans alike, particularly his famous breakdancing celebration, Robertson would inject a whole new ethos into the England set up but could be seen as too much of a risk by the RFU.
Whoever England select as their new coach, a big job lies ahead, and progress must be rapid if they are not to face the ire of an already agitated fan base and media section. England have the players and the talent to make a real mark in 2023 and this change of coach could be the exact tonic and dose of positivity required for England’s players.