England head coach Simon Middleton has said that he, along with the RFU, “are looking at lots of potential areas where they can bring some female coaches in” to supplement the backroom team ahead of the upcoming TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign.
Ahead of his final tournament with the Red Roses, Middleton spoke of the need to grow the involvement of women coaching in women’s rugby, with a prime example being Abbie Ward joining the set-up ahead of the championship.
“It's a great opportunity for Abbie to come and work with us, that's a typical example of looking at what's on the table and whilst Abbie's intentions are very much to keep playing, it's a great opportunity for her to develop her coaching," Middleton said.
"So she'll be doing plenty of shadowing of Deacs (Louis Deacon) and working with the players because we all know what a fabulous lineout exponent she is.”
Ward (29) hasn’t hung up her boots, and is still contracted to the Bristol Bears, but will be taking time off in the near future as she is expecting her first child. She is the first player to announce a pregnancy since England Women went professional in 2019.
Having lost their last competitive game – the World Cup final against New Zealand in November – Middleton said that the RFU had gone through a stringent review process that had highlighted the need for coaching improvements.
“In a couple of areas, we need to cover some specialist stuff: kicking and probably a front-row expert," he said.
An insight into Ealing Trailfinders Women with @GiselleM18: "I feel privileged to be in this position to give opportunities to talented athletes." #Premier15s— Talking Rugby Union (@TalkRugbyUnion) February 10, 2023
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"We've got decent depth in all those, but these are some niche areas, and if you're looking at most programmes, they have specialist coaches in certain areas. That's what we want to do, we always want to move the programme forward.”
Despite being in the England camp since the World Cup victory in 2014, Middleton isn’t going to be one of those choosing the next permanent head coach to lead the team towards a home World Cup in 2025. When pressed on if he had a preferred choice for his successor, he simply, and cryptically said: “The right person.”
However, he did admit that he has already made plans for the time between now and that tournament and is willing to hand those over to ensure a smooth transition.
“I won't have a part in choosing it, but hopefully I'll have a part in helping them kickstart 2025 because this is a big tournament. There are not many tournaments (left before the World Cup), and this is a short tournament anyway, so we laid a plan down before the Six Nations of what we wanted it to look like in terms of preparing for 2025, and we're sticking to that plan, absolutely.”
Whoever replaces the departing Middleton will be an interesting choice. The likes of Jo Yapp, Giselle Mather and Susie Appleby could well be in the frame whilst Alex Austerberry has guided Saracens to two Allianz Premier 15s titles.
In the case of Middleton, his last game in charge of the Red Roses will come on Saturday 29th April at Twickenham, with a huge crowd expected for what is predicted to be a title decider. Given the magnitude of the occasion, it could be argued it is a perfect send-off for England’s most successful head coach, but he insists that the result could make it a far-from-perfect goodbye.
“It will be (the perfect ending) if we win, and if it's the Grand Slam. If not, it probably won't be perfect but it's a great stage, isn't it?
"I couldn't think of a better place to exit, at Twickenham, but it isn't going to be about me. It's going to be about that occasion, and hopefully us being in the position where we can try and go for a Grand Slam.”