Steve Borthwick will prove English-reared coaches are as talented as any of their overseas counterparts when he is formally anointed as Eddie Jones’s successor, according to one of his main Premiership rivals. With the Rugby Football Union preparing to unveil Borthwick as the new national head coach, Exeter’s Rob Baxter believes the pending appointment is a positive one which will be welcomed across the English game
On the day he and his Chiefs coaching staff confirmed new long-term deals to stay at Exeter for the next four years, Baxter suggested the entire Premiership will applaud the choice of an Englishman for the top role. “Personally, I think that’s what should be happening,” said Baxter, the last Premiership-based coach to win the European Cup. “If it’s Steve and it’s based on how he’s worked through in the Premiership that for me would be fantastic. It would show there’s a genuine pathway within this country and there’s a general feeling across the board that that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
While Baxter has been taken aback by the timing of the decision to remove Jones nine months before next year’s World Cup – “I was surprised the decision got made now” – he insists the Leicester man’s lack of experience as a Test head coach will not be an issue. “I think people probably underestimate the challenges of the Premiership when it comes to team management,” said Baxter, who works with numerous England squad members at Exeter.
“I’ve always been surprised [to be told] you have to have come from an international coaching environment to have the credentials. When you look at some club sides they have up to nine international players at times. And it’s way harder to manage the internationals than it is in the Test environment. When you’ve got them coming and going and you’re managing the relatively high injury attrition rate, you can’t just bring in another team’s best player to replace them. Your management scenario is actually a little harder.”
Baxter, meanwhile, revealed he had “two or three” chats with the RFU’s Nigel Redman who has been responsible for coaching succession planning at Twickenham but made clear it was his preference to remain at Exeter “for the foreseeable future.” He sees no reason, though, why Borthwick cannot succeed in raising English morale despite the tough demands of the national team role.
“There is a simple way of looking at this: teams that are successful tend to enjoy what they do. Some of that enjoyment comes from genuine buy-in and from understanding how they want to play. I am not going to sit here and tell you I know how Steve Borthwick coaches but if you watched the Leicester guys last season you wouldn’t have thought that was a joyless experience they were having, would you?
“Without doubt it’s a challenging job. Managing a role within the RFU, along with people’s expectations of what the coaches should be like and how the team should play, is obviously difficult. You may have to be a different character to deal with the spotlight that gets put on pretty much everything you say and the interviews you do. Every selection you make gets ripped to pieces, doesn’t it? Here at Exeter if I make a selection it might get ripped to pieces by 10,000 people. If you make a selection for England it might get ripped apart by a million people. But that’s the challenge, isn’t it? The challenge isn’t the day to day, it’s that bigger environment.”
Baxter is among those, however, who feel sacking Jones at this juncture is a big call. “On the whole Eddie has been pretty successful if you go game by game. The problem this autumn was quite a few things got magnified and it all came a little bit in one go. It is the slips that kill you and the slips get magnified more than the successes. I am surprised it happened at this stage just purely on timing. It does feel like it has happened rather quickly.”