Eddie Jones’ 2023 gamble: England’s new dream team or too many cooks?

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There will be a sense of new beginnings at the first England training camp of the season next week and not just among the playing personnel. Eddie Jones has three new members of staff for the first get-together of the season and though the defence coach Anthony Seibold will not be there in person, suffice it to say that first impressions will be everything for the incoming trio.

As well as Seibold, Jones has appointed Richard Cockerill as (another) forwards coach and Martin Gleeson to oversee the attack. When the appointments of Seibold and Cockerill were announced earlier this month Jones concluded that he had the coaching team in place to set about achieving England’s stated goal of winning the World Cup in two years’ time. Given Jones has not gone two years in his tenure without changes to his coaching staff, we should reserve judgment on whether this is, indeed, the finalised team for France 2023.

It is an unorthodox mix, eye-catching in parts, underwhelming in others and given the rate of turnover of late, they will have a task on their hands getting their messages across. Jones talks at length over the need to keep instructions simple and as brief as possible but given that, even since the last World Cup, they have been coming from John Mitchell, Simon Amor, Ed Robinson, Jason Ryles and Alex Codling – and those are just the ones not involved any more – the players would be forgiven for feeling as if they are getting mixed messages.

Of the three, Cockerill arrives with the loftiest reputation. His record with Leicester stands scrutiny with the best and it is often remarked upon how the Tigers’ subsequent decline only serves to emphasise the good work he did at Welford Road. The improvements he made at Edinburgh were also evident. Cockerill has never been afraid to speak his mind and is often worth listening to, so, selfishly speaking, his appointment is welcome.

Related: Eddie Jones omits four senior players from 45-man England training squad

How his relationship with Jones develops will be fascinating – to be a fly on the wall when they first come to loggerheads – and it is unlikely to be for the faint of heart. As one wag on social media put it, “Bad Cop, Worse Cop”. A word of warning, however, comes from the former Scotland captain and Edinburgh back-row John Barclay, who, in a column for the Times, picks apart Cockerill’s autocratic approach. “Edinburgh needed someone like Cockers back in 2017,” wrote Barclay not long before Cockerill was appointed by England. “They needed a firm, even autocratic leader. What they did not need was for him to hang around being firm and autocratic after he had knocked them into shape. He was an agent of positive change at the start, but he was a malign presence thereafter.”

More pertinently, with regards to Cockerill, is quite how he fits in with Matt Proudfoot on the coaching staff. Granted England had both Neal Hatley and Steve Borthwick for the 2019 World Cup but whereas their specialist areas provided a welcome blend, both Cockerill and Proudfoot are scrummaging experts. There are those who felt Proudfoot would follow Amor out of the door following the Six Nations and while he arrived at England with his stock sky high following South Africa’s World Cup triumph, he is yet to make a similar impact as forwards coach.

It is suggested Proudfoot’s skillset is predominantly on the scrum – hardly dominant of late – and little else, but it is not entirely clear how he and Cockerill will dovetail. At the time of Cockerill’s appointment, Jones said, “We’ve added Richard to the team to work with Matt to create a dominant forward pack”, but while the two were pictured working together at Kingston Park on Sunday it remains to be seen how harmonious a double act that will turn out to be. The other thing to note about Cockerill’s appointment is that, if successful, he comes into the frame when it comes to the Rugby Football Union determining Jones’s successor after France 2023. It was a situation that Mitchell found himself in but his departure to Wasps demonstrates how quickly things can change under Jones.

Which leads us on to Mitchell’s successor in Seibold. Jones has explained how he struck up a relationship with his compatriot in 2019 and Seibold has revealed how he had been assisting England remotely as a consultant prior to his appointment. Precisely what he was doing is unclear, not least given England’s leaky defence during the Six Nations, and while it is a path taken by Phil Larder to impressive effect in the past, it is not often someone lands such a high-profile job in their first role in another code – Seibold’s CV hitherto restricted to league. He was named the NRL Daily M coach of the year in 2018 when at South Sydney Rabbitohs but was hounded out of his subsequent role with Brisbane Broncos following their worst campaign in history in 2020 in which they collected the wooden spoon. Indeed, the vitriol aimed at Seibold was such that it led to calls for Australia to tighten its legislation around cyberbullying.

Anthony Seibold had a tempestuous exit from Brisbane Broncos in 2020 but has been brought in as England’s defence coach by Eddie Jones.
Anthony Seibold had a tempestuous exit from Brisbane Broncos in 2020 but has been brought in as England’s defence coach by Eddie Jones. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

It is important to note that Jones does have history when picking less heralded coaches – Scott Wisemantel was not a household name when made attack coach in the summer of 2018 and proved a huge hit – but certainly Seibold’s appointment can be considered a gamble. Wisemantel, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength with the Wallabies and in many ways Amor was a victim of the Australian’s success. Gleeson is the next to be handed the reins and is the latest appointment with a rugby league background.

Ryles was never able to establish himself as skills coach due to logistical difficulties arising from the pandemic but Jones will be hoping Gleeson can use his cross-code nous to help England prise open defences, which for the time being, remain on top in the international game. Gleeson oversaw the Wasps attack in their impressive run to the Premiership final in the 2019-20 season but is still relatively new to union. How quickly he settles into the role – alongside Cockerill and Seibold, who is due to begin the job in person for the autumn internationals – will be instrumental in how England start the second half of their World Cup preparations.

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