Simon Middleton Interview: I would be “absolutely honoured” to lead England in 2025

Simon Middleton is contracted with the RFU until June 2023

It’s been nine weeks since the Black Ferns defeated the Red Roses 34-31 in New Zealand.

The 2021 Rugby World Cup - which was delayed by a year due to Covid-19 - saw England's 30-match winning streak come to an end in the final back in November.

Head Coach Simon Middleton sits down with TRU's Elizabeth Cartwright to reflect on 2022, plus he also touches on the future for himself and the team.

"You don’t get over something as big as a final" Middleton began. "I was there in 2017 when we lost and I didn’t get over that but it doesn’t mean you can’t live with it or you can’t achieve bigger and better things. When you put so much into it though, and that’s talking from everyone’s point of view, it scars you.

"But again, that’s the nature of sport and that’s why we're in it. I think if you didn’t want to ride the rollercoaster that comes with sport, then winning and losing is what you’ve got to be prepared for."

It is clear when listening to Middleton that the pain of losing back-to-back World Cup finals against New Zealand isn't something you can easily shrug off and after eight years in charge, there has been talk around whether it is time for the Rugby Football Union to look for a fresh start.

Middleton is contracted until the summer and reports suggest the governing body will be making a decision this month about whether the 56-year-old will stay in his post.

When we chatted before Christmas, Middleton said he'd taken some time to reflect on the last 12 months and he also spoke highly of the RFU after the support they’d given to him and the squad.

"You kind of want to sit down, feel sorry for yourself and mourn a little bit but it’s not possible as everyone else was so positive," Middleton said. "You'd think we’d won! [the World Cup].

"I spent the first couple of days down in Twickenham which was a bit like therapy. You couldn’t not want to be part of the positivity, though.

"That I found difficult because ultimately my job is to win and especially the biggest of games. We hadn’t done that but at the same time, you’ve also got the responsibility for growing the game and celebrating the positivity around it.

"Bringing people down is not what we want. Creating the energy within the RFU is really important as that’s what inspires people to do their jobs well. You just get the feeling the RFU really cares. You can see how it promotes the growth of the game so as much as I wanted to feel sorry for myself and feel down about it, I couldn't”.

When asked if he’d managed to switch off from rugby and what possibly lies ahead for himself, Middleton added: “Post Six Nations or an Autumn series when we won, you can come down because you’ve got the job done and you’ve won.

"You’re not thinking 'what might have been.' This has been different. All you can think about is what might have been different but you don’t come all the way down. I didn’t watch the final back for about three weeks. I couldn’t watch it but then we met at Twickenham on the 6th of December and reflected. It was very positive. We had a review with the coaches and we will have the big end review in January. We will see what happens."

No matter what direction this England team goes in next, Middleton has played a massive part and been hugely influential in the Red Roses' successes over recent years.

Saturday 19th November 2022 was an indication of this and a day of celebration for the England team at Twickenham.

Following the adrenaline of a hard-fought Women’s Rugby World Cup and the final against New Zealand, the Red Roses reunited in London to celebrate a world record.

They broke the record for the most consecutive wins in international rugby union - with 30 successive victories between 9th November 2019 and 5th November 2022. Not only do they now hold a Guinness World Record, but they have also won the Six Nations crown four years in a row and they secured a third straight Grand Slam title in France early last year.

“Nailing the Six Nations in Bayonne was terrific" added Middleton. "I thought we played really well in France. We were really professional about the way we went about it and winning that Six Nations was great.

"The game that got us the 24th win which brought the record consecutive wins was also special because, for me, that was always a big thing.

"I always made a big thing about it, more than some people did because I always said if you want to be part of a successful team, you have to make history and you’ve got to be able to say no one else has done this so getting the winning streak and breaking that record was always high on the agenda. I knew we could extend it and create something that would be really difficult to break. What a great achievement.

"When we met right at the start of the international season, we were on about 16 wins and I mapped out with the team what each significant win meant and what it could potentially bring to the side in the hope it would win us the World Cup final.

"Obviously, we pulled up short on that which was the ultimate disappointment because, like anybody, I would swap the 30 games for the World Cup because that’s ultimately what we wanted more than anything. We still achieved a massive amount out of last year and there are lots of things for the team to be really proud of."

Middleton admitted he wouldn't have changed too much in New Zealand, stating selection headaches were the only thing he looks back on in terms of elements he may have tweaked.

This takeaway from Middleton perhaps highlights the sheer depth England have at their disposal. With the WXV, the new global women's competition, being launched in 2024 and the small matter of a home World Cup a year later, there is still plenty for an exciting Red Roses squad to target.

When asked if he will lead the girls out at Twickenham in 2025, Middleton said he’d be “absolutely honoured” to do that again but only if he thinks he can win the World Cup.

“We’ve got to get the name on the trophy. I said right from the start how difficult it would be winning in New Zealand. It showed why it’s so difficult and winning your own World Cup is even harder because there’s so much pressure which you have to be ready for. What an achievement it would be to do it though?"

As the conversation draws to a close, Middleton turned his attention to the Six Nations which begins in March.

“I always look forward to the tournament, it’s a great competition. I think there are a few highlights for us already. We’re going to play a fixture in Newcastle [v Scotand] which will be incredible. It’s on the border so it’ll be a sell-out. Then we’ve got the last fixture at Twickenham which we’ll see a massive crowd for. There could be a lot riding on it [v France] so we’ll see but we’re going back to Franklin’s Gardens [v Italy] which we’re all really looking forward to”.

The Red Roses might not have won the 2021 World Cup, but it is clear they are already building towards something special in the not-too-distant future.

Whether Middleton will be a part of that, only time will tell.