So Martin Johnson has gone as England manager. It was as predictable as it was inevitable. The dolts, the idiots, the buffoons at the RFU appointed a great former player with no coaching experience to lead the England cavalry charge and then found out that the bloke couldn’t ride a horse. It would be funny if it wasn’t so absolutely pitiful.
Many years ago I had a very agreeable dinner with Martyn Thomas and Nigel Wray in a Chinese restaurant in Mill Hill. At the time I asked Wray why on earth he had appointed Francois Pienaar as the coach of Saracens. I pointed to all the great players across many sports who had been absolutely hopeless coaches. Then I listed all the great rugby coaches and asked Wray how many had been truly great players. Thomas rumbled in agreement.
A few years later Thomas took over at Twickenham and one of the first things he did was to appoint Johnson as the man in charge of England. Well, at least they were kind enough to pay for dinner all those years ago and a very fine meal it was too. The rest, it seems, was a complete waste of time.
With the RFU’s track record you can expect them to cock it up again. They may care to look at the list of World Cup winning coaches – Sir Brian Lochore, Bob Dwyer, Kitch Christie, Rod McQueen, Sir Clive Woodward, Jake White and Graham Henry – and note that there are two decent ex players in the seven and both of those had considerable prior experience in other areas of life. The RFU may care to look at that list, but don’t bet on it.
The obvious candidate was Nick Mallett. He has coached at a previous World Cup as Woodward and Henry had done. He has lived a previous life outside rugby. And he will bring discipline and intelligence, along with all that experience to the role. Mallett, after talking to the RFU, has ruled himself out of the job. But the RFU should not take no for an answer. Knowing the man, I suspect Mallett could yet be persuaded if given the right level of power.
Mallett has shown interest before and been rejected because the little people at the RFU don’t like formidable men making decisions for them. It is time they grew up, because beyond Mallett the RFU is not spoiled for choice.
New Zealand at the moment is considering about 372 possible candidates as Henry’s successor. They have a structure that develops coaches through the grades. But England has no worthwhile system for developing English coaches.
Half of the premiership teams are coached by men from Scotland, Ireland or Wales. That leaves Rob Baxter (Exeter), Toby Booth (London Irish), Richard Cockerill (Leicester), Steve Diamond (Sale), Richard Hill (Bath) and Jim Mallinder (Northampton) as the English reps.
They should all be interviewed for the job, despite the inexperience of a couple, but I would bet a fair few pence that they are not all available. Bath caused great difficulties when the RFU appointed Woodward all those years ago, squealing for compensation, and Woodward wasn’t even their head coach at the time. That shows you just how much the clubs are likely to help the RFU find a coach this time around.
The intelligent solution remains Mallett who at least has a good deal more English heritage than Fabio Capello. It would not be the first time that the RFU has gone outside England, having offered Ian McGeechan the job at the end of the nineties.
But don’t bet on the RFU doing the sensible thing. I am half expecting to pick up the newspaper in a fortnight’s time to discover that Jonny Wilkinson has got the nod.