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Brave New World for English Rugby

Unusually, the RFU got on the front foot to kick of the New Year with the Nigel Redman interview. He was keen to show that the decision to arrive at Steve Borthwick was the result of a global search as well as forensic interviews with coaches across England. Some would have said that Borthwick was obvious so why go through the process. ‘Olly’ Redman is spot on and well-done Bill Sweeney for giving him that brief. The only thing that needs changing now is that Borthwick and his team must account for their performance to the appropriate group but not the CEO. 

Redman alluded to the appointment of the last 5 England coaches since Clive Woodward and the processes adopted – they were ALL totally flawed. For the record, Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton, Martin Johnson, Stuart Lancaster, and Eddie Jones. I was involved in the first one, when Andy was appointed through an interview process and conditional upon a team being built around him. Francis Baron refused to abide by this, and Andy was set up to fail. I advised him to resign immediately but he is a fighter and for two years he battled against the odds until his eventual departure following the home defeat to Argentina in 2006. Since then, it has been at the whim of various CEO’s who knew very little of what it would take to coach England successfully. Is it a coincidence that England has won almost nothing of consequence since 2003? Even the Grand Slam of 2016 in Eddie Jones’ first year was the year after England was knocked out of its own World Cup in the pool stages and arguable the least relevant Grand Slam in our history as most teams were rebuilding. For England it was to regain some pride.

Talking of Eddie, he said that unlike others he would stay quiet following his removal, but he just cannot resist the temptation. ‘I was too nice to the players’, ‘it was my comments about private school that made me so unpopular’,’ I changed my assistants round too much’, ‘we were on target to win the World Cup’…. And those were the ones I saw. This will be last time I mention him other than to say that he was a poor as well as indiscriminate selector (was there ever a panel?) and really had a problem in building an effective off-field team. These are two connected points and while one is always a problem for any coach of England, the other is more one of leadership and team making. A question mark which will hang over him whatever happens next in his remarkable career.

Elsewhere, the glorious uncertainty of sport was delivered up at Caldy Rugby Club in the first week of January. Obviously fuelled by the delicious sporting wine which is served up at this wonderful Wirral club, they achieved an unlikely and heroic victory over my new club Ealing Trailfinders. It is a fact that however heavily the odds are stacked against you, there can still be an upset. Long may that continue, although for Ealing no more repeat results like that!

Onward to the Six Nations and more glorious uncertainty, two new coaching teams for England and Wales. Ireland and France are at the top of the global tree. Whisper it that Scotland don’t often lose to England these days, and Italy has newfound confidence. And it’s World Cup Year…

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