In this three part series, Josh Raisey will discuss what England’s head coach needs to do to get back to winning ways.
Vince Lombardi once said: “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing”. No words have ever been more apt for this England team. There were times during their run of 24 matches with only one loss where they looked certain to lose. Miraculously, they found a way to win those games, but possibly became complacent in doing so.
As soon a Scotland burst that bubble of indomitability, everything England ever trusted and new fell apart. They’ve lost three on the bounce, and with it they’ve lost that innate understanding and expectation to win.
This isn’t always a bad thing. As nice as winning is for fans, coaches and players, it can paper over cracks that were apparent. No one wants to change a winning formula, and therefore England never developed or adapted. But now is their chance to go back to the drawing board and come back stronger. So what must they do?
Get an Attack Coach
Eddie Jones’ coaching team all have one thing in common- they were all forwards. Steve Borthwick, Paul Gustard, Neal Hatley and Jones himself have all done a fantastic job, but there are limitations to what they can bring to a team, and that was visible this past Six Nations.
Most international teams have an attack coach these days, or at least someone in the coaching set up that was a back. England’s torpid attack has been the cause for despair for the entirety of English fandom for a while. The RFU has the money to lure any coach from around the world, so it’s just a choice of choosing the right man.
But Jones must think about recruiting someone for this role, and fast, so that the team doesn’t have a mountain to climb adjusting before the World Cup. He could start by turning to former England players, with names like Will Greenwood and Mike Catt springing to mind. Although still green within the world of coaching (he has coached the Barbarians), Greenwood has an intricate understanding of attacking play and is often recognised as the attacking catalyst behind the World Cup winning side.
Catt has already coached England, but was another cog in that world-beating side, and has much more experience than his former partner in the centres. Admittedly, he has already had a go with England, but he has genuinely injected some attacking flair into the Italians, and could return again.
The RFU may refrain from selecting players from this era after the backfiring of Martin Johnson’s tenure, but Johnny Wilkinson shows his encyclopaedic knowledge of all facets of the game in his punditry and would no doubt bring experience and creativity into England’s backline.
The RFU has the money to lure any coach from around the world, so it’s just a choice of choosing the right man.
It may be anathema to Jones, but he could turn to his one-time coaching rival, Sir Clive Woodward, to provide his Yoda-like knowledge and guidance. In his coaching days, Woodward worked with Brian Ashton to create perhaps England’s most potent attack in the modern era. Ashton has remained quiet since the shambles around his sacking in 2008, but is it time the RFU turned back to the best attacking coach England have had in the past 30 years?
England played their best rugby in the summer of 2016. A record-breaking three-match whitewash against Australia on their home turf catapulted England into the forefront of world rugby limelight along with the All Blacks. Jones used the services of former Wallaby Glen Ella for that series, and the results showed. With a proven track record, could this be the man Jones turns to again to bring the backs to life?
Another Australian Jones could turn to is their legendary fly half Stephen Larkham. During his playing days, Larkham was coached by Jones at the Brumbies and the national side with a great amount of success. The former Wallaby 10 is now coaching the Brumbies, but that would not be too much of a deterrent if Jones feels that this is the man.
We could look further afield, namely someone from New Zealand. The northern hemisphere is the destination where most good club coaches from down under are weaned into international rugby.
Could Dave Rennie be stolen from Glasgow Warriors? Could Aaron Mauger or Tana Umaga be pilfered from the Highlanders or Blues? New Zealand seems to be a limitless pool of coaching brilliance (Joe Schmidt being a clear example).
In an ideal world, Eddie Jones would pick up the phone and give Wayne Smith a call: “Hey Wayne, great job with the All Blacks and everything, do you fancy a real challenge now?” But that may be wishful thinking. But ultimately, the RFU is the richest rugby union in the world; the possibilities are endless, so it’s time they flexed their muscles.