Australia bring in former Lion to strengthen line-out before 2025 tour

Geoff Parling during his time with Melbourne Rebels in 2018
Geoff Parling will now work with Australia and go up against Steve Borthwick - Getty Images/Michael Dodge

Geoff Parling, the former England second-row and set-piece expert, has been confirmed as Australia’s new line-out coach.

Parling, 40, has been based in Australia since joining the Melbourne Rebels as a player in 2018, and previously worked as a Wallabies assistant coach under Dave Rennie in 2020.

He will now go up against England head coach Steve Borthwick later this year, another line-out guru, when the Wallabies face England at Twickenham on November 9. The pair did not overlap as England team-mates, with Borthwick’s last cap coming in the 2010 Six Nations and Parling making his debut in 2012.

Part of the British and Irish Lions series win over Australia in 2013, Parling is currently the Melbourne Rebels forwards coach and has been an assistant for six seasons. He won 29 caps for England, while his final game in English rugby came in the 2017 Premiership final with Exeter Chiefs, defeating Wasps in extra time.

Parling will link up with Joe Schmidt, the former Ireland head coach who took over from Eddie Jones following last year’s Rugby World Cup.

“I spoke to Joe a couple times when he came to the Rebels. I heard a lot of good things about Joe in the past so I’m really excited to work with him on the coaching team,” Parling said. “He’s very level-headed, consistently sees the game and preps well. I think he’s good on basics and getting the fundamentals right. Once you get those, a little bit of brilliance will come.

“I’m pretty familiar with the majority of players that will come in from either coaching or coaching against them regularly. I feel like the little bits of differences we have in Super Rugby teams can be well put together and aligned, we can have a great force as a forward pack at the Wallabies.”

Schmidt said of Parling: “Geoff has spent more than 20 years, playing and coaching in the professional game. His understanding of the line-out, along with his Super Rugby knowledge, and previous experience with the Wallabies will add value to our coaching group.”

Parling’s Australia stint could be England’s future gain

When Exeter brought Geoff Parling to Devon nearly a decade ago, Rob Baxter said that the club were signing more than just a player. They wanted his influence on the club’s young guns, identifying Parling as the kind of character who could improve the team on the field and help bring along many players off it. During those two years with Exeter he also spent time working with Taunton Titans, a future of coaching very much on his mind.

Which is all a long way of saying Thursday’s announcement confirming that Parling has been appointed to a Test coaching staff comes as no surprise. From the moment he left Exeter in the best possible circumstances after winning the club’s first Premiership title, Parling has been on a journey to learn and develop into a top coach, playing briefly in Japan before settling for the past six years in Melbourne with the Rebels as both a set-piece and forwards coach.

Steve Borthwick would no doubt approve. A stint abroad coaching Test rugby with Japan under Eddie Jones marked the start of Borthwick’s next career, before returning to coach England with Jones after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Borthwick never coached against England during his stint with the Brave Blossoms but Parling certainly will, returning to Twickenham in the autumn, the same venue where he was part of England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup defeat to Australia. A reunion with the Lions next year is also fascinating, given Parling started the final two Tests on the 2013 tour alongside Alun Wyn Jones against the Wallabies.

The hope of course is that England will eventually benefit from a young coach learning his trade overseas at a high level and eventually returning to offer that expertise to either a Gallagher Premiership club or the national team, just as New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have done over the past two decades by sending coaches to the north.

Parling in his introductory video noted the influence on his career of Mike Cron, the scrum guru who worked for a long time with the All Blacks, with Parling contacting Cron while he was still a player and asking if Cron would mentor him as he moved into coaching. Now the two are part of the same backroom staff, joined by another wise head in Laurie Fisher. Alongside analyst Eoin Toolan, the group under a smart hand in Joe Schmidt have been tasked with reviving the Wallabies following their disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign.

Further down the road the table is set for a fascinating line-out duel between Parling and Borthwick in the autumn, two line-out gurus pitting their wits against each other looking for the upper hand.