Former hooker who challenged an All Blacks' haka linked to England job after

Edinburgh rugby coach Richard Cockerill has been tipped as a possibility to replace Eddie Jones as England national team boss.
EDINBURGH RUGBYEdinburgh rugby coach Richard Cockerill has been tipped as a possibility to replace Eddie Jones as England national team boss.

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 Pro14 side Edinburgh.

Cockerill was sacked by Leicester Tigers in January 2017 but has guided Edinburgh to a third-place finish in the Pro14 last season and a strong start to their European campaign.

Melville’s predecessors, Ian Ritchie and Steve Brown, both said that England’s search would centre on hiring a coach with proven international experience.

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England's Australian-born head coach Eddie Jones could be succeeded by an Englishman.
DAN MULLAN/GETTY IMAGESEngland’s Australian-born head coach Eddie Jones could be succeeded by an Englishman.

However, Melville said that coaches such as Cockerill were also in the mix given the desire to give English coaches the chance to replace Jones, whose contract runs 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,” said Melville.

“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 of Gareth Southgate, who led the England football team to 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 said.

“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 a 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 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 1,200 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 1,200 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 1,000 or 800 players.”

The Sunday Telegraph

The Telegraph, London