DOES ANYONE OUT THERE WANT TO BE THE NEW ENGLAND HEAD COACH? APPARENTLY NOT.
It’s all yours then, Jake; indeed, the White Man would seem to be the Right Man by dint of nothing more devious than being the Only Man with his hand up. Certainly if you take them at their word – and why wouldn’t you given they’re all honourable men – then Graham, Steve, Wayne, Eddie, Michael and Warren simply aren’t interested. What’s more, Vern’s barely had time to learn the second verse of ‘Flower of Scotland’, Daniel has new frontiers to conquer with Argentina and Joe became an Irishman just before the World Cup, a ceremony in which – sharp suit and green tie – he pledged his ‘loyalty to the Irish nation’. Citizen Schmidt would appear to be going nowhere.
Which just leaves Jake who this week achieved the – surely – unique feat of uniting Brendan Venter and Sky Sports’ Stuart Barnes in common cause; their unflattering opinion being that White’s rugby philosophy is – take your pick – ‘negative’, ‘outdated’, ‘boring’ and ‘joyless.’ Certainly the idea of Mrs. Twickenham Man having to remove her husband’s shoelaces and hide his razor blades before the start of the Six Nations is not an inspiring thought.
But, then again, while getting Jake would seem to be a cinch, keeping him might not prove quite so easy. In 2013 he resigned from the Brumbies with two years remaining on his contract to return to South Africa. He coached the Sharks for a season then left ‘to seek international opportunities’ – a technical role with Tonga, which lasted for three tests – before taking over at Montpellier where, just last May, he signed a two-year contract extension.
Yet here he is now – a man who describes himself on his Twitter account as a ‘proud South African’ – cheerfully touting himself as the saviour of English rugby. Forgive me, but isn’t there a small contradiction there? And could I please have a penny for the thoughts of Montpellier’s big buck backer, Mohed Altrad on all of this? I am genuinely curious.
Which means – White aside – the RFU’s only alternative would appear to be a colossal ‘reverse ferret’; someone home-grown and handsome who can be piped into his coronation news conference with a little ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ and a bouquet of red roses. Except that Rob, Jim, Mike, Dean, Dean and Conor have all said no and even Richard Cockerill’s not holding his breath at the thought of Richard Cockerill being offered the job. Steve Diamond once coached Russia – could that be his trump card – and Dai Young, of course, has international experience given he coached Cardiff Blues in Welsh Wales. He’s a lovely man Dai – he’ll do anything for a jelly baby – but I’m not sure any of us are ready for a Welshman coaching England, Dai included.
So where does all this leave the RFU? Chasing a Dave Rennie or a Jamie Joseph through the backwoods of New Zealand? Clive Woodward? Whisper it quietly, Ian McGeechan? Now there’s a thought: not just an international pedigree but English born, so – you could argue – he fits all the bills. In fact how neat would that be, the review panel appointing one of its own or – even neater – a CEO educated in Leeds replacing a Head Coach who lives in Leeds with another Head Coach who was born and bred in Leeds. You can’t get much more local than that.
Or does Ian Ritchie simply reach for his cheque-book and batter one of the refuseniks over the head with it until he says ‘yes’? In fact given the ‘money’s no object’ line from last week’s news conference – potentially the most expensive three words in English rugby history – could this be exactly what some of the nay-sayers are waiting for? Why roll over for £350,000 a year when you can play hard to get for £750,000? Fair enough, it’s a professional age but, personally, I’d rather have someone who really wants the job rather than someone who really wants the money, however good he is.
Whichever way you slice it, it’s starting to look a little like a dog’s dinner and you have to wonder why. Did the RFU ever have a Plan B should everything go belly-up at the World Cup? And if not, why not, given an inexperienced outfit was in the toughest pool in tournament history? Are we to seriously believe that, in this big a business, nobody sat down and Thought The Unthinkable? Well, if we are then the lack of foresight and contingency planning is bordering on the negligent.
You also wonder how much Ian Ritchie would give to have a more considered stab at last week’s new conference. Weighty as he appeared, his insistence on hunting down someone with ‘international experience’ has now hemmed him into the tightest of corners and the ‘money’s no object’ line – as discussed – has placed him firmly on the back foot. And while we’re there, why reveal that his last conversation with Stuart Lancaster lasted ‘a couple of hours’ when he’d already said that the parting of the ways was by ‘mutual consent’? If you both want a cappuccino why would you need half a morning in the coffee shop to talk it over?
Chats – reportedly – have already been held with Jake White, formally or otherwise, and it’ll be fascinating to see how patient he’s prepared to be while the RFU casts about for alternative options. It’s all getting very cat and mouse. Is there someone out there who’s shaking his head in public yet privately offering Twickenham a nod, a wink and a glimpse of a stocking top if the money’s right? And if there is, would any CEO in his right mind trust someone like that running the national team? ‘Joyless’ Jake may be ‘outdated’ but at least he seems to want the job which, right now, seems to put him in a glorious minority of one.
13 NOVEMBER 2015