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England to get multi-national coaching panel


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It may sound like the start of an old joke but an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman could all have an input into the serious business of selecting the next permanent England rugby union coach.

Finding a long-term successor to Martin Johnson, the former England manager, was top of the ‘to-do’ list for new Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Ian Ritchie when the man who used to run the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, the home of Wimbledon, took possession of his Twickenham office on Monday.

Ritchie will lead the recruitment process, which the RFU hope to have completed well before England’s tour of South Africa later this year, but as a rugby ‘outsider’ is expected to seek specialist advice.

Some of that could, controversially, come from RFU professional rugby director Rob Andrew, the former England fly-half.

Andrew was widely criticised for seemingly disclaiming any responsiblity for England’s botched World Cup on and off the field in New Zealand last year and the performance of the RFU’s elite rugby department, of which he was the head, is due to be reviewed.

Scottish input could come from Bath boss and former Scotland and British and Irish Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan, tipped to represent the English Premiership on any selection committee.

Conor O’Shea, the former Ireland full-back who has nurtured several England players, including current skipper Chris Robshaw, while overseeing Harlequins’ revival, has also been spoken of as a Premiership representative.

“Within the agreement (between the clubs and the RFU), Premiership Rugby are going to have an input and if the ones nominated are myself and Geech (McGeechan) then I’d be delighted,” said O’Shea.

Meanwhile Kevin Bowring, who coached Wales from 1995 to 1998 before joining the RFU as its head of elite coaching development, could have a say as well.

Interim England coach Stuart Lancaster, has won plaudits for backing up his desire to restore a culture of decency with Six Nations wins away to Scotland and Italy followed by an improved, if losing, display against World Cup semi-finalists Wales at Twickenham.

Some feared that as a former coach of England’s reserve Saxons, RFU ‘insider’ Lancaster would lack the necessary boldness to get the team playing the brand of rugby that will once again make them a major world force.

But there was no lack of daring in Lancaster starting impressive 20-year-old Owen Farrell at fly-half against Wales, in the absence of the injured Charlie Hodgson, when he could have opted for the far-more experienced Toby Flood instead.

Farrell was mature beyond his years on Saturday while England shackled centre Jamie Roberts before the Welshman’s replacement, Scott Williams, scored the only try of the match four minutes from time as Wales won 19-12.

Lancaster, appointed on a caretaker basis for the Six Nations, has made it clear he would love to take the job on permanently.

England have never had a foreign head coach but Lancaster’s major rivals for the job appear to come from overseas, with former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett, former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan and former Italy and Japan coach John Kirwan all linked with the post.

Part of the eight-year ‘peace deal’ brokered between the RFU and England’s leading teams in 2008, designed to end a series of ‘club v country’ rows, entitled Premiership Rugby to two representatives on an England coach selection panel.

“I think the principle of Premiership rugby being asked their opinion is good because it is vital the 12 clubs and national team are working together,” said O’Shea. “Hopefully, whoever does have input will have the right input.”

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