Red Roses boss Simon Middleton to step down after Six Nations

Departing England coach Simon Middleton has coached England to four Six Nations Grand Slams
©RFU Collection via Getty Images

Following the conclusion of the 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations, England Women head coach, Simon Middleton, will leave his role.

At the end of 2022, the 57-year-old led the Red Roses to a third consecutive Rugby World Cup final, the side ultimately topped by host nation New Zealand at Eden Park.

Joining the RFU in 2014 to take charge of England Women Sevens on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, Middleton was also an assistant coach at the 2014 Rugby World Cup in France where England were crowned as champions.

In 2015, Middleton was named as Red Roses head coach while also maintaining his sevens commitments. After helping Team GB Women Sevens to a silver medal in Rio de Janeiro, Middleton would switch his attentions to XVs full-time.

Across his tenure as head coach, the Yorkshireman coached England to five Six Nations and four Grand Slams, as well as a world record 30 match winning run and runners-up finish at the 2017 Rugby World Cup in Ireland.

Awarded an MBE for serviced to rugby football in 2021, Middleton became the first women’s coach to be named World Rugby Coach of the Year after continuing to take his side to new heights.

“There have been great memories built around success and great memories built around defeat,” Middleton said in the RFU’s press release.

“Do I regret not signing off winning the World Cup as a head coach? Yes, for sure, but I know we can all live with that because we could not have worked harder or given more, sometimes that’s just not quite enough and it wasn’t on the day. 

“I know last year’s World Cup campaign was and continues to be celebrated and quite rightly so - the bravery and commitment of the players in that game was exceptional and is to be admired. 

“They are an excellent group of players, but more importantly amazing people and I know they will continue to be successful.”

Forwards coach Louis Deacon and backs coach Scott Bemand will also stay in their roles for the Six Nations, the team starting their 2023 campaign with a visit from Scotland at Kingston Park in Newcastle.

In the statement released by the RFU on Monday afternoon, RFU Performance Director Conor O’Shea stated that the governing body has been working on a succession plan for over the past 18 months.

O’Shea would describe the coming years as “unbelievably exciting for the women’s game in England”, the nation hosting the 2025 Rugby World Cup and harbour hopes of selling out Twickenham for the showpiece finale.

Writer’s thoughts

When you look at Simon Middleton’s time as Red Roses head coach, as well as his time coaching sevens, it is hard not to be impressed.

For the better part of a decade the 57-year-old has coached a team that has transformed from the amateur era all the way to the heights of professionalism.

Winning five Six Nations titles and four Grand Slams is no mean feat, although you are constantly left asking ‘what if?’ when it comes to the greatest prize of all.

If England had won the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year, I think we would have seen Middleton depart there and then as gold confetti fell from the Auckland sky.

It would have been a final chapter befitting of a coach who has set world records and became the first coach in the women’s game to pick up the World Rugby Coach of the Year award.

Instead, that hero’s finish is destined to be the Six Nations. It felt inevitable after two World Cup final losses in a row that Middleton would look for pastures new.

A change, even after great success, is not a bad thing by any means. Whoever steps into the breach will have their work cut out for them, but a home World Cup in two years time is the best motivation a coach could want.