After three and half years in the role, Martin Johnson has stepped down as England manager. Although he struggled to make an impact in the early stages of his managerial career, there were signs England were beginning to mature as a side under his leadership. Wins against Australia home and away were followed by a Six Nations triumph that gave England huge optimism heading to the World Cup. Well we all know what happened next. A miserable tournament saw the team fall to France at the quarter-final stage and therefore Johnson’s position as Head Coach came under review. Ultimately he made his own decision, believing that it was “in the best interests of both the England team and myself not to carry on,” perhaps dodging the RFU bullet that was heading his way. Reaction to his departure has been mixed amongst the rugby world, with some, like Jeremy Guscott stating Johnson has made the right choice. Others however, especially players of the current era have come out in defence of Johnson, stating the iconic figure was still the right man to lead England forward. Whatever you make of Johnno’s decision, or indeed his time in charge at Twickenham, there must be a new man to step into the role. The RFU must put aside their internal squabbles for the time being and ensure the right man is appointed, with a home World Cup approaching in 2015, the side needs to be perfectly prepared to present a formidable challenge at HQ. However, the decision-making process has been made tricky, with a number of leading candidates ruling themselves out; indeed many people’s favourites for the role, international heavyweights Nick Mallet, Jake White and Clive Woodward have already distanced themselves. A pity too. But here is an assessment of the remaining options:
Jim Mallinder – The clear favourite at 10/11, the former Head Coach of Sale and current Northampton man has been successful in transforming these sides, Northampton in particular, into successful units. Progression at the Saints is clear for all to see, winning the European Challenge Cup in 2009 to land their first piece of silverware in a decade. Two Premiership semi-finals have followed, not to mention the unfortunate defeat to Leinster in last year’s Heineken Cup Final. The work in promoting English youngsters into the first team has made him many people’s choice to replace Johnson and he said himself he wants the job, therefore potentially making him the man to lead England forward.
Eddie Jones – His name pops up whenever any international job is mentioned, although his credentials would appear attractive to any employer. Lead Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, whilst he also helped coach South Africa to victory four years later. Already confirmed his desire for the role, stating ‘You’d always be interested in coaching England,” but he wasn’t exactly a hit at Saracens in his time at the club plus do we really want an Aussie coaching our national team?
Richard Cockerill – Not too much has been said about the Leicester supremo’s chances of taking the job. But he has been a sensation at Welford Road, winning the Premiership title in his first season and finishing runner-up last year. He is rather outspoken, likes things his own way and comes from the same bubble of old, gnarled Leicester forwards much like Johnno himself. Therefore he could be a carbon copy of what has come before him, thus making him a more of a left-field candidate.
Graham Henry – The obvious name on everyone’s lips given the World Cup winning coach has conquered all before him with the All Blacks and he’s just resigned from his post. This should essentially make him a shoo-in, but complications have arisen. Henry is yet to decide whether he even wants the position, declaring that although he is considering coaching in Europe again, he is weighing up the drawback of family commitments back in New Zealand, not to mention he’d prefer more of an advisory role within the RFU, not the Head Coach position itself. He was also a disaster last time he worked with English players, back on the 2001 Lions tour.
Toby Booth – Another viable domestic candidate, the Head Coach of London Irish has been excellent during his time at the club, guiding them to a Premiership Final in his first season in charge. This is, however, his first real position in the world of rugby coaching and inexperience may rule him out of contention this time round. Will surely be a serious contender later down the line.
Marc Lievremont – He lead France to the World Cup Final…Nah I’m just kidding. He’s an idiot.
So who should it be? The England job is a difficult challenge to anyone that takes it, but still one of the most prestigious positions in World Rugby. The wrong decision has been taken before, see Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton and even Martin Johnson and this shows that the desire to appoint an Englishman should perhaps be put to one side this time round. Too many esteemed names have ruled themselves out already, leaving just a handful of domestic candidates but personally I would throw the chequebook at Graham Henry. A proven winner, he would ensure the future of English rugby lies in safe hands, though unfortunately I’m not convinced he’ll take the job. Perhaps the solution is to offer him a place in higher management, a role that would interest Henry far more and then install Mallinder as Head Coach, making a dream team to bring home the World Cup on home soil. That would be my preference, but it is looking more and more likely by the day Mallinder will get the job anyway.