Richard Cockerill emerges as surprise contender to replace Eddie Jones as England head coach
Richard Cockerill has emerged as a surprise contender to replace Eddie Jones as England head coach.
Nigel Melville, the Rugby Football Union’s interim chief executive who is heading up the search for a successor to Jones, said that he had been impressed by the former England hooker’s impact at Pro 14 side Edinburgh.
Cockerill was sacked by Leicester Tigers in Jan 2017 but has been rebuilding his reputation north of the border after guiding Edinburgh to a third-place finish in the Pro 14 last season and a strong start to their Europe campaign including victory over three-times champions Toulon.
Melville’s predecessors Ian Ritchie and Steve Brown had both stated that England’s search would centre on hiring a coach with proven international experience.
However Melville said that coaches like Cockerill were also in the mix given the desire to give English coaches the chance to replace Jones, whose current contracts run until 2021 but which will end next year if England flop at the World Cup in Japan.
The suggestion comes just days after the two most successful coaches in the Premiership, Mark McCall, the Ulsterman who has masterminded Saracens’ success, and Exeter’s Rob Baxter, last week both ruled themselves out of contention for the job.
“Cockerill has done an amazing job in Edinburgh, did you think he’d do a really job up there?” said Melville. “I questioned whether he would but actually he’s done a really good job.
“There are these young guys around that you sometimes don’t think about – Joe Worsley has done a great job in Bordeaux, he’s head coach now and it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.
“Steve Borthwick (England assistant coach) did some great work going down to various countries, obviously working with Japan. I’m sure Steve would be interested in the head coach job. He’s a good developing coach and he knows international rugby pretty well now.”
Melville’s inclination to promote the credentials of English coaches is in part a reflection of the success Gareth Southgate has had with the national football team this year, when England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia.
“He (Southgate) has played on that (being English). Eddie accepts that, the English piece, and Englishness is important, essential,” Melville added.
“We want a heavyweight international coach or a potential international heavyweight coach that is going to develop into an international coach but I want a coach. One who understands culture and the importance of culture.
“We have seen many coaches come in, the southern hemisphere (coach) going into club where they bring a southern hemisphere culture with them and it doesn’t fit our culture and the team don’t perform.”
Meanwhile Melville, who is expected to apply to become the permanent successor as CEO following Steve Brown’s decision to step down last month, is to propose that the Premiership adopt an NFL-style 16-club conference structure.
The RFU last week knocked down suggestions by a Premiership club that promotion and relegation should be ended this season and Melville believes the answer is instead expansion of the top flight from 12 to 16 clubs.
“If you expand, you have to go into a conference structure. You would go to 14 or 16 teams,” Melville added. “Two eights would give you a true geographic spread. Two eights would play home and away, then go into quarters, then go into semis. It’s like when they brought play-offs in the Premierships.
“If you look at the NFL, they don’t have a cup competition and an A League and all those sorts of things. They focus on their core business. We’ve got nearly 1200 professional players in the country.
“Do we need 1,200 professional players? New Zealand’s got five franchises of 30-plus ITM Cup guys so that’s two or 300 professional players.
“We’ve got 1200 professional players and maybe the reason is that we’ve got so many competitions going on with elite players. That’s money going out of the game. It’s not going into infrastructure. Maybe we get down to 1000 or 800 players.”