Runners and riders to succeed Simon Middleton as Red Roses head coach

Jo Yapp coaching Barbarians Women against South Africa in 2021 - Bob Bradford/Getty Images
Jo Yapp coaching Barbarians Women against South Africa in 2021 - Bob Bradford/Getty Images

Now it has been announced that Simon Middleton will step down as England head coach after the Women's Six Nations, attention inevitably turns to who will replace him.

Middleton, who admitted he would “never get over” the pain of losing a second successive World Cup final to New Zealand last November, has been in charge of England women since 2015 but feels it is time for "a different voice for players to get inspired by".

Whoever takes charge this summer will have a busy three years ahead. There is WXV, the new global women’s competition being launched by World Rugby next year, before a home World Cup in 2025, where organisers are hoping to sell out Twickenham for the final. So who are the main contenders to replace Middleton?

Susie Appleby

The former England scrum-half has built an impressive squad from scratch at Exeter Chiefs, showing great management skills to bring together players from all over the world. Last year, in only their second season in existence, she took the side to the inaugural Allianz Cup title and the Premier 15s final, where they lost to Saracens.

Interestingly, a lot of Exeter men’s coaches have worked with the women’s team at Sandy Park, so perhaps Rob Hunter or Ricky Pellow could also come into the mix.

Alex Austerberry

Having steered Saracens to two league titles, Austerberry is not lacking in credentials should he fancy stepping up to international level. The big question is whether he would be keen on a gig in Test rugby. At present, it seems he would take some convincing.

“I’d have the conversation. But ultimately, I love my job here at Saracens,” Austerberry told Telegraph Sport late last year. “I love the day-to-day of it. I love what we’ve built and what we want to go on and strive to do. Right now, this is the place where I want to be and I don’t envisage that changing.”

Richard Blaze

A former Red Roses forwards coach who knows how to build a strong forwards unit. He had a long spell at Leicester Tigers after retiring as a player before working with England Under-20s and then the Red Roses.

He left the Rugby Football Union set-up in 2020 to join Wasps as a forwards coach but that role became defunct when the club went into administration late last year.

Matt Ferguson

The Northampton Saints forwards coach has had two previous stints with the England women’s team, both as an assistant looking after the pack. He worked with the team from 2009 to 2011 and then again from from 2015 to 2018, when he helped the side reach the 2017 World Cup final.

Ferguson, whose successes with the team included transforming Sarah Bern from a physical back-rower into a world-class prop, was also said to be a popular member of the coaching team.

Giselle Mather

Former England centre Mather was the first woman to gain a Level Four coaching badge and her CV is vast. She spent a decade coaching at London Irish, where she worked with the likes of Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph, and guided men’s side Teddington on a 62-game unbeaten run, which spanned three promotions.

She is now heading up the new women's programme at Ealing Trailfinders, who will join the Premier 15s next season.

Anna Richards

A four-time World Cup winner and one of only four Black Ferns to be inducted in World Rugby’s Hall of Fame, Richards is a legend of women’s rugby.

Hiring a Kiwi could be the missing piece to the puzzle if the Red Roses are to banish their World Cup hoodoo against New Zealand, having never beaten them in a World Cup in five attempts.

Amy Turner

Turner was due to be the only female member of the Red Roses’ coaching team at last year’s World Cup, but the 38-year-old left the set-up in the summer to take charge of Premier 15s side Harlequins. Would she be tempted by a move back to the international set-ip?

“I’d never say never,” she told Telegraph Sport in December. “I’m really open to exploring opportunities that give me growth, development and new challenges. I’m really enjoying my challenge with Harlequins and I’m loving the journey.”

Jo Yapp

One of the finest female coaches in the game, Yapp is a strong contender to become the first woman to take charge of the Red Roses, having coached the Barbarians Women and England Women Under-20s in recent years.

On the domestic scene, she has been integral to transforming the Worcester women’s side and has played a key role in holding the team together during the club’s financial crisis. She also won the 2022 Women’s Sports Alliance Coach of the Year award.