With Martin Johnson resigning as head coach of the England Rugby team the biggest job in Northern Hemisphere rugby is once again available. But who will be the next to attempt to emulate the success that English fans have craved since Sir Clive Woodward’s departure in 2004.
One of the early front runners, Nick Mallet has already ruled himself out. Following his success with the South African and Italian teams in recent years he seemed a strong candidate, but his decision to return to his homeland of South Africa rules out one of the top men in international rugby.
Also from the southern hemisphere come Eddie Jones of Australia and 2011 World Cup winner Graham Henry from New Zealand. Jones would be a risky choice as his record is inconsistent to say the least. Getting to consecutive World Cup finals and advising the Saracens team to Premiership glory last year are impressive, but his record at Queensland and his overall record at Australia are poor.
Henry is undoubtedly one of the great coaches in the world today. His record has been impressive wherever he has gone, steering Wales from the doldrums of World Rugby to building the team that would go onto at times dominate the Six Nations and winning the World Cup with New Zealand last month. His reputation for developing young coaches will also count in his favour too. Steve Hansen will no doubt have a certain level of success with New Zealand if, as expected, he is appointed as Henry’s successor. Henry could be the man to guide England from the shadows of the 2003 World Cup winning team to a new stronger future. The 2015 World Cup may be what he will be judged on, but you can almost guarantee that one of his coaching team will go on to succeed him and build on whatever Henry would achieve if appointed.
The major factor counting against both Jones and Henry is they are not British and more specifically not English. The England team have never had a coach from foreign shores and if it is at all possible, many within the RFU will want to continue this pattern. There are English candidates in Jim Mallinder, Mike Catt and Toby Booth. Catt and Booth have less than 5 years coaching behind them, seemingly too little for the top job in English Rugby. Mallinder is a real possibility but his ability to compete at the very highest level is unproven. He had success at Sale, turning an unattractive northern club into Challenge Cup winners and genuine title contenders. He has enjoyed further success at Northampton too. Taking over a club in the second tier of English Rugby in 2007 he has gone on the win the Challenge Cup and the Anglo Welsh Cup as well as finishing as runner up in both the Premiership and the Heineken Cup.
The next England coach should it appears come from one of two men; Graham Henry or Jim Mallinder. It would appear that Henry is the strongest candidate but it is not clear as to whether he can be persuaded to take the job on. The RFU’s record of appointing English coaches in the past may count in favour of Mallinder. Whilst Henry would be the stronger of the two candidates it would be fair to say that Mallinder’s position as bookmakers favourite is probably justifiable.