Dream Scenario: England Head Coach

This is a new segment that we are going to be pushing hard into the off season which allows us to conjure up 'Dream Scenario's' for our favourite clubs and players. It seems like an especially relevant time to talk about some big names linked with the England job due to the rampant speculation on Eddie Jones' future. I think Jones will stay, in fact, I don't have any doubts in my mind that he will stay, however, the fantasy booking of England Head Coach only comes around once every four years or so; it's been even longer with Eddie at the wheel. Let's run through some bookies favourites and some exciting names we would love, or loathe, to see at the top of the English Rugby pyramid.





Rob Baxter - 10/10


We all think it, we all know it, we all would love to see Rob Baxter take on that England role. However, he has stated on countless occasion's that the job doesn't really inspire him and we all can understand his hesitations with that poison chalice. Exeter continue to dominate domestically and look like a stern favourite to head to the European finals again this year, but following such a strong campaign previously and having won the league twice, what more can Baxter do with this side? Their outfit still has a positive age profile, their home grown talents continue to impress and they still have the luck of not losing that many players to international breaks (however, this number is rapidly rising). After this season, I do feel Baxter needs a new challenge as this side is at the pinnacle of northern hemisphere Rugby, and that throne is always an uncomfortable one.





His style of play and game management is PERFECT for the international game, galvanising sides without the top talent to become ruthless, aggressive winners. England have bulk in that pack and play a very collision-heavy game, he's currently the best coach in the WORLD at that style of Rugby. With England's emerging youth in the pack such as Martin, Willis, Curry, Barbeary and more, he's the right man to nurture that young talent appropriately and create an incredibly dominant forward line. Also, our backs are pretty weak in comparison to the French, Welsh, South Africans and New Zealanders; man for man, barely any of them get in over their international counerparts. Baxter knows how to orchestrate a low risk, high reward attack, creating innovative strike moves and using his Wingers as excellent support runners. He would be our top pick!





Pat Lam - 7/10


There is no doubting that Pat Lam is a fantastic coach who still has room to grow before he hits his ceiling. He turned a weak Connacht side into a competitive outfit, and transformed Bristol's ethos, allowing them to become elite challengers domestically. Although you might be able to discount his work due to Bristol's endless spending, and his poor performance in knockout matches in Europe this year, and in the Premiership last year, he proved with the Challenge Cup, that he is capable of navigating a knockout tournament through immense man management. I'd go so far to say, that he's the best man manager in the league, and one of the best in the Northern Hemisphere. People want to play for Lam and he quite often turns struggling, out of form/out of sight players into international-level talent e.g. Thacker, O'Conor, Leiua and Uren.





His game plan doesn't really suit England's strengths at current, but that doesn't mean he couldn't implement his own style. Unlike Baxter, I can see Lam completely transforming this England side on paper first, on the pitch second. The likes of Simmonds, Odogwu, Obano, O'Conor and more would be his first picks on that team sheet. Under his gaze, I can't see a future for Youngs, Farrell, Daly or even May in his outfit. Exciting, expansive and exploratory Rugby paired with some big, nasty forward strike runners might be enough to score some big wins in the Six Nations, but how would they do against South Africa? Difficult to say...





Lee Blackett - 6/10


Being a Wasps fan, I have a huge admiration for Blackett and what he's added to my side. Although Wasps are on a terrible run of form, you have to say he massively overperformed with that side last year. Wasps are a very streaky team and have very streaky players, but they also have a remarkably budget-friendly squad and have thinned out dramatically due to countless injuries; there were times in our front row, where I genuinely didn't know whether we had enough players to name a competitive first team. Also Blackett was incredibly unlucky last year, heading into that final without Fekitoa, Launchbury, Cruise and more. He was one lineout away from closing out an unbelievable upset.





What Eddie Jones seems to struggle with are his people skills, becoming disliked by ex-co-coaches, ex players such as Brown and Care, and by the wider media. He does like to antagonise the press, but it does make him unpredictable and an excellent tactician. However, when it falls apart, he's the only person that can be blamed. Blackett is of the opposite mould. He's very honest, very open to critique and is happy to blame himself over the players, week in and week out. His appointment could go one of two ways. He bloods the youngsters in earlier, creates a formidable, era defining international side that final plays to it's resources and makes England exciting to watch once again, or he becomes a Lancaster-esque yes man, a victim to the system that put him there in the first place. The jury is out on Blackett at that level due to only having a season and a half of top tier coaching experience. In a couple of year, he could be the man to take England forward.





Richard Cockerill - 8/10


I actually think Cockerill would be a great choice to fill Jones' boots. Although currently in a pit of form similar to Blackett, I think he's constantly overperformed in conjunction to where his team sits. It's taken years for Leicester to leave the rut they were in after he left, and you could argue that he was the person protecting them from falling in on themselves. His policy at Leicester was pretty clear, big, strong, nasty forwards sent out there to hurt opposition at every breakdown, maul and scrum, with big, strong, nasty backs, to punch holes through unsuspecting opposition. It was simple, yet highly effective. His knockout record is pretty strong too and he guided Leicester to successes that if you look back on, they thoroughly deserved thanks to his influence.





Over in Edinburgh, he's definitely expanded on his style, implementing a surprisingly effective attacking game into his arsenal. Players such as Johnson, Kinghorn and Graham have adopted his methodologies wholeheartedly, and have looked like international quality players as a result. Overlapping centres, an intelligent territory kicking game and a jackal-centric approach to the breakdown have led to Edinburgh becoming a resilient outfit. He's the perfect blend of Jones' s***house media tomfoolery and genuine likeability to really spearhead this outfit.





Scott 'Razor' Robertson - 7/10


Now if you don't follow Super Rugby, you might not realise how high the 'Razor's stock is right now. He's turned Crusaders into an almost impenetrable goliath of World Rugby. The individual impact he's had on players such as Mo'unga have led to this side becoming self-replenishing; the future is a bright as the present, is as bright as the past. Every high profile job in World Rugby, he is being linked to. Wales, when Pivac was underperforming, the Lions, when Gatland's credential were called into question, New Zealand when they took a bit of a battering against Argentina and Australia, and now England.





I would bump up Robertson to a 9 if I felt the employment was likely, but I feel like he only ends up in that New Zealand Head Coach role. Although Jones brought initial success to England by not favouring players (mostly because he had never coached any of them outside of a couple of academy sarries), his downfall has been his inability to understand the Premiership landscape and take a chance on new faces he doesn't immediately trust. That would ring surprisingly true of Robertson too, as I can't see him adopting the Premiership politics, the weight of the English RFU above him and the back foot personalities in that dressing room. I'm not saying that he wouldn't have control, I'm more suggesting that without intense research, how will he know what he has control of? Regardless, he's in the top three best coaches around at the moment and you would snap him up as a risky choice anyway.





Alex Sanderson - 5/10


Now I love Alex Sanderson as much as the next Rugby fan, and what he is beginning to achieve at the Sharks is nothing short of mesmerising, but he's way too green to put in that England Head Coach spotlight. He's currently in the opening stages of changing this Sale side from challengers into bonafide winners, with that, he needs to continue manoeuvring through the ever-changing Premiership landscape and showcase that he is able to deal with adversity. Every side has a new coach bump, look at the likes of Leicester and Harlequins this season, Wasps last season and Bath when Hooper first took over. It's difficult to quantify Sanderson's impact on the club until they consistently keep this high level of form up for over a season; similar to Blackett really.





What he does have going for him, is his successes at a world beating Saracens setup, his immensely fan-friendly and likeable demeanour, and his obvious comradery with players in the dressing room. Sanderson is currently balancing some big personalities over in Sale such as de Klerk, de Jager, Yarde and potentially Tuilagi. He's doing an expert job at reverting these players from a set structure, and getting them to play how they enjoy playing. Now that might sound like simple, lazy punditry, but Yarde is now far more eager to join between the centres rather than sticking out wide all the time; he looks really hungry for ball and is supporting far more intensely. De Klerk is sniping once again and using his boot to incredible effect; he's also still unafraid to get his head stuck in. The likes of Beaumont and the James brothers look rejuvenated under him; he's doing a fantastic job. Just too early to call on this one.





Paul Gustard - 3/10


Unfortunately, I believe Gustard would be a pretty awful pick for this top spot of English rugby. Although I do believe him to be a solid coach, I think he perhaps lacks the all round game needed to coach at international level. England had great success under his tutorage, going unbeaten for a crazy amount of time and building this world-beating defence. His start at Quin's was successful too, finally adding some grit and aggressiveness into that dressing room.





However, it always felt unsettled at Quin's and as if previous stars were massively underperforming in his new, attritional system. Once the performances started to drop and injuries inevitably ate away at his most tenacious players, heads dropped and his rolled. His time over in Italy is certain to be exciting and I'm really excited to hear how he improves that setup. If he can add some expanse and invention into his structures, he will definitely be bumped up a few places on this list.





Clive Woodward - 1/10


Bookies have been desperate for this to happen for over a decade, however, I think this would be a cataclysmic choice for all involved. Woodward left England right when he needed to and admittedly, should have probably bowed out of the game for good at that Head Coach level, when he took over the Lion's, we saw an absolute drubbing by a tough All Blacks side that hurt his reputation more than it was worth; rustiness and a reliance on familiar faces cost the Lions a very winnable series.





It's now been 15 years since that atrocious tour and other than in the punditry studio, Woodward hasn't really contributed to the sport in it's professional development. He hasn't coached anywhere, hasn't supplied any consultancy to emerging nations and hasn't really seemed interested in taking up any jobs that aren't the England head honcho. Remarking on his punditry, it's often hyper critical and it sometimes feels weirdly bitter; he definitely targets players and coaches for criticism, but rarely praises them after a cracking performance... Just take this Six Nations as an example with the way he reviewed both the England/Wales and England/France games. He would definitely strip this side down to it's bare essentials and build it in his own image, I cannot see him gelling with any of the big names currently in that setup.




Jamie Joseph - 8/10


Now this would be a tough one to secure, but Joseph would be an excellent appointment as the next main man in that England set up. He would cost an absolute wedge to lure away as he's already turned down the biggest job in world rugby, coaching the All Blacks. He's definitely stated on countless occasion's that he wants to continue the development of Japanese Rugby and implement all the structural changes required in order for them to turn into a fully fledged tier one nation. Following in the footsteps of Jones isn't a bad idea and arguably, Joseph achieved an even more impressive feat than Jones at the Cherry Blossoms; finishing first in their World Cup pool. In his time, they've been Scotland, Ireland, nearly beat England away from home, won the Asian Rugby Championship, won the Pacific Nations Cup and finished 5th in the 2019 World Cup. What. A. Resume.



Joseph has an excellent Rugby brain and can coach equally efficiently across each function. He's massively improved that Japanese scrum, their breakdowns are unbelievably efficient, he's improved their collision success rate, their tactical kicking is better and more fluid, their strike runners are even less predictable and they've become one of the best attacking sides in World Rugby. He has also transformed their domestic Rugby league which has now become a destination for top talent such as Freddie Burns, Beauden Barrett and George Kruis. He would be a fantastic pick for England and would clearly improve every element of that side; he also wouldn't need that many tools or resources to do so. He would be higher up in this list if it were at all possible to convince him to come over, but I really doubt it.


Photo Copyright Credit @ The SA Rugby Magazine

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