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New year, new coach: International coaching ins and outs
We run through the multiple changes of head coach that have recently taken place in international rugby.
In the space of 24 hours, early in December, both England and Wales, finalists and semi-finalists at the last men’s Rugby World Cup, announced the departure of their respective head coaches, Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac, principally as a result of a disappointing Autumn Nations Series campaign that brought just one win for either team.
Jones left his position with the best win ratio of any England head coach in the professional era (73 per cent), equalling the number of wins achieved by Clive Woodward (59) but in fewer games, while Pivac led Wales to the 2021 Six Nations title but was unable to back it up the following year.
𝐖𝐄𝐋𝐂𝐎𝐌𝐄 𝐒𝐓𝐄𝐕𝐄 𝐁𝐎𝐑𝐓𝐇𝐖𝐈𝐂𝐊— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) December 19, 2022
We’re delighted our former captain and forwards coach Steve Borthwick has been appointed England men’s head coach from today.
Borthwick will be joined by Kevin Sinfield who has been appointed defence coach.
Instead of Jones, England will go to this year’s Rugby World Cup with Steve Borthwick, one of his coaching proteges, given the responsibility for helping England go one better than in 2019 when they finished runners-up to South Africa.
Wales, meanwhile, have returned to a trusted old friend in New Zealander Warren Gatland, who presided over the most successful period in Welsh rugby history in the modern era, delivering four Six Nations titles and three Grand Slams during in his first spell in charge between 2008 and 2019.
But England and Wales are not the only countries with new men or women at the helm, as the coaching merry-go-round has been in full swing of late.
While Borthwick and Gatland are busily assembling the coaching teams around them, Australia’s head coach Dave Rennie has lost one of his trusted lieutenants following Scott Wisemantel’s decision to step away from his role as attack coach. And not long after, it was announced that Scotland attack coach AB Zondagh was leaving Gregor Townsend's backroom team to pursue other opportunities.
Like England and Wales, Romania will go into Rugby World Cup 2023 with a new head coach after the shock resignation of Andy Robinson following the Oaks’ final test of the year, a 22-0 home defeat to Samoa.
Robinson was on course to face his former team, Scotland, as the countries have been drawn together in Pool B, but the 58-year-old stepped down after just two wins from eight tests in 2022, saying “I feel that I have taken the Romanian team as far as I can.”
Romanian Eugen Apjok has taken over from Robinson on an interim basis.
Vacancies in America
USA are currently looking for new permanent head coaches for both the men’s and women’s teams.
Gary Gold has moved on after the Eagles lost out to Portugal for the 20th and final place at Rugby World Cup 2023.
The South African, however, can still reflect on some notable successes during his time in charge including the historic win over Scotland in 2018 and leading the USA to an all-time high of 12th in the World Rugby Men's Rankings powered by Capgemini.
Gold's assistant, Scott Lawrence, will take on the role on an interim basis while USA Rugby conduct a global search for Gold's successor.
Meanwhile, Rob Cain, Gold’s counterpart with the Women’s Eagles, left his post as head coach following the conclusion of Rugby World Cup 2021.
Cain, 42, led the team to the RWC 2021 quarter-finals but the defeat to Canada was ultimately his last test in charge.
He was appointed in May of 2018, succeeding Pete Steinberg in the role, and finished with a test record of five wins and 17 losses.
Again, his assistant, Richard Ashfield, temporarily steps up to fill the breach.
The coaching landscape in the Lowlands of Europe looks different, too, ahead of the reformatted Rugby Europe Championship.
Lyn Jones has barely got his feet under the table as new head coach of the Netherlands, while this week Mike Ford, who has previous experience of the competition with Germany, was announced as Chris Cracknell’s successor as head coach of Belgium.
Appointed back in September, Welshman Jones has one test under his belt, a home defeat to Canada, and will be looking to this year’s Rugby Europe Championship as a chance to really stamp his mark on the Dutch squad.
Both Jones and Ford have vast experience of both international and club rugby. Jones has worked in Abu Dhabi and with Namibia and Russia in the past in addition to high-profile clubs in England and Wales.
Prior to leading Germany at the Rugby World Cup 2019 Repechage, Ford coached England and Ireland’s defence in addition to coaching on a British and Irish Lions tour and has held prominent roles with some of Europe’s leading clubs such as Leicester, Bath and Toulon.
The rollercoaster that took @BlackFerns to @RugbyWorldCup glory 🇳🇿— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) November 20, 2022
Wayne Smith reacts to being named the World Rugby Coach of the Year#WorldRugbyAwards pic.twitter.com/XdHHirsDb9
Women's world champions after new leader
It’s also all-change for three of the big hitters in the women’s game, New Zealand, France and Italy.
Wayne Smith took on the Black Ferns director of rugby role in April and the plan was always for him to go back to retirement after Rugby World Cup 2021. His yet-to-be-named replacement will have a tough act to follow though after the iconic coach steered the team to a sixth world title.
RWC 2021 also brought the curtain down on Thomas Darracq’s brief reign as Les Bleues’ head coach.
Darracq, 45, who took over from Annick Hayraud at the end of May 2022, guided France to third place in New Zealand but has since stepped away from the job due to family reasons. He is replaced by his assistants, David Ortiz and former captain Gaëlle Mignot.
And Women’s Six Nations rivals Italy also have a new person in charge in Giovanni Raineri.
Raineri, who earned 23 caps for Italy’s men between 1998 and 2003, was previously the country’s U18 coach.
He replaces the long-serving Andrea Di Giandomenico, who oversaw unprecedented success during his 13-year reign, leading the Azzurre to back-to-back Rugby World Cups and a first-ever Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance for an Italian team last year.