Ian Peel: Why I turned down England to stay at Saracens

Ian Peel: Why I turned down England to stay at Saracens - Telegraph/Geoff Pugh
Ian Peel: Why I turned down England to stay at Saracens - Telegraph/Geoff Pugh

Ian Peel, the Saracens forwards coach, has spoken for the first time about turning down the opportunity to join Steve Borthwick’s England coaching team, describing it as “the toughest decision” of his career.

It is understood that Peel, 47, had been identified as Borthwick’s first choice to replace Richard Cockerill as England’s full-time scrum coach who would also be given responsibility for mauls ahead of the World Cup in France in September.

Peel disclosed that he had initially expressed an interest in the position when he was first contacted by Conor O’Shea, the Rugby Football Union’s professional rugby director, about applying for the position, before the start of the Guinness Six Nations in February. But, having been invited for an interview for the job, decided instead to phone Borthwick directly to withdraw from the process.

“There were a number of people going for the job and there was no guarantee that I would get it, but I didn’t want to go through the whole interview process only to tell Steve that I didn’t want to proceed,” Peel said, in an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport.

“It was the toughest decision of my career. I loved working with Steve when I first came to Sarries and did a dual role, working with England during the 2016 Six Nations, when he was assistant to Eddie Jones.

“There is also the attraction of starting in a World Cup year, working with a strong squad and being part of a good coaching team. My mum and dad would also have been super proud. My family are all massive rugby fans and I think they were keen for me to take the job so they could get tickets to England games.”

Peel, who has spent seven years at Saracens having previously worked with the England Under-20s side, said he spent around three weeks mulling over his decision, consulting Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, club owner Dominic Silvester via a phone call from South Africa, and even some of the club’s senior players.

“Mark was fantastic. He said he wanted me to stay – I am under contract with the club for the next two years – and that we were working really well as a management group and pleased with what we were doing and the direction we are going as a club,” Peel said. “He said he wanted to keep the team together but that if I felt that joining England was the right thing to do, the club would help me do so.”

Ian Peel: Why I turned down England to stay at Saracens - Telegraph/Geoff Pugh
Ian Peel: Why I turned down England to stay at Saracens - Telegraph/Geoff Pugh

'I would love to be involved at some stage'

Peel said the decision ultimately came down to two factors: Saracens and his family.

“I just love working with Saracens,” he said. “I love working with the players, some of whom, like Jamie George and Mako Vunipola, I first started working with when I was coaching England Under-20s. Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje were coming through as well at that stage. I have known those players for a long time and I have a great relationship with them and love working with them every day and challenging each other. I also love the environment, working with the other coaches. We are a tight group and I feel like I am developing in this environment as a coach. Steve can appreciate that from his time here with Saracens as a player.

“The second decision was about my family. I know from having worked with England age-group sides just how much of a commitment it is even at that level. With England Under-20s, I was away from home, living in hotels for about four months a year. When I worked with Eddie in the 2016 Six Nations, I was away for eight weeks. You get some for short periods, but people don’t necessarily realise what a commitment it is – even my own family members.

“I decided that I just was not ready to give up the time with my two children, who are 12 and 10, and my wife Pippa.

“I know I might not get another chance to coach with England again. But what we decided as a family was that while I might not get that opportunity, if I did go for it now, I definitely would not get the chance to spend the time with my kids from the ages of 12 to 16 and 10 to 14.

“When I spoke to Steve, I told him it was a huge honour to be even considered for the job and I was super excited about it. But having had time to reflect, I felt that if I keep developing as a coach and working hard, I might have another chance in the future. If I don’t, I am fine with that, but I am never going to get the chance again to spend the next World Cup cycle with my kids.”

The former Newcastle prop, however, has not given up hope of coaching England one day. “I would love to be involved at some stage,” he said. “That is why I wanted to be straight with Steve. There are professional and family reasons why now is not the right time, but you never know what might happen in the future.”