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- English rugby union footballer and coach, and rugby league footballer
England women’s head coach Simon Middleton has made history as the first coach of a women’s team to win the World Rugby Coach of the Year award on the back of guiding the Red Roses through a second successive calendar year unbeaten.
Their run of 18 consecutive Test victories included back-to-back record wins over world champions New Zealand in the autumn internationals. The 55-year-old beat off competition from men’s XV’s coaches Ian Foster (New Zealand) and Australia’s Dave Rennie. New Zealand women’s sevens coaches Allan Bunting and Cory Sweeney, who guided them to Olympic gold in Tokyo, completed the shortlist.
The last Englishman to win the award was Sir Clive Woodward in 2003, and England men’s head coach Eddie Jones was awarded the accolade in 2017 for winning the Six Nations and also reaching an 18-Test winning streak from 2016.
Middleton helped lead England to a third successive Six Nations title in April. This is the second significant individual accolade for Middleton this year after he was made an MBE for services to rugby in June as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Middleton received the news during a phone call with Rugby Football Union Director of Performance, Conor O’Shea, and afterwards the Yorkshireman shared a poignant moment with his family.
“When Conor rang me with the news, my daughter was in the other room. They knew I’d been nominated, and she came straight to the door because she could hear the conversation, and she was like, ‘Have you got it?’ I just put my thumb up and I could see the tears well up in her eyes,” he told World Rugby. “Then I told my son, who is 16. He’s really into his sport and he just said: ‘I can’t believe that, that’s incredible … I’m so proud of you’. When your kids tell you that they are proud of you, it means a lot.”
Middleton, who took over from World Cup-winning coach Gary Street in 2014, began his career in rugby league at Castleford before swapping codes and playing at Leeds Tykes, where he became a coach at the end of his playing career. In an interview with BBC Sport, he said: “It adds another layer of credibility to where we’re trying to get to, elevating the game.”
England are one of the favourites to win the rescheduled World Cup in New Zealand next year – a trophy the Middleton says “is the holy grail” for his side, who lost out to the Black Ferns in the 2017 final.