Runners and riders to replace Simon Middleton as Red Roses’ head coach

Wasps Ladies director of rugby Giselle Mather during the Allianz Premier 15s semi-final in 2021
Wasps Ladies director of rugby Giselle Mather during the Allianz Premier 15s semi-final in 2021

Six weeks on since Simon Middleton admitted he would “never get over” the pain of losing a second successive World Cup final to New Zealand, we are no closer to knowing if he will stay on as Red Roses head coach.

Middleton, who has been in charge of England women since 2015, is contracted until June 2023, as are assistant coaches Scott Bemand and Louis Deacon. He is yet to indicate whether he will continue in the role, with his position currently the subject of a “technical review” by the Rugby Football Union.

The governing body is expected to confirm next month whether the 56-year-old will stay in the job, although there is a growing feeling that after eight years a fresh impetus in the Red Roses’ coaching set-up is needed.

Whoever takes charge 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 if Middleton and the RFU decide to part ways?

Alex Austerberry

Having steered Saracens to two league titles, Austerberry is not lacking in credentials should he fancy to step up to international level. Nor is he a stranger to the RFU, having previously worked as a women’s performance pathway officer for the governing body before joining Saracens in 2018. 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 earlier this month. “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.”

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.

If appointed, Richards would be the first foreign coach since Australian Geoff Richards, who led England at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, as well as the first woman.

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 Worcester’s 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.

Yapp has a forensic knowledge of what it takes at international level, having represented England at three World Cups, including captaining the side at the 2006 edition.  

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 has previously shown interest in becoming England women’s head coach and last year publicly spoke about her disappointment at not even being considered for the role in 2015 after former coach Gary Street resigned. “I didn’t expect to get the job, but I did expect to get an interview. I was a coach that was fully qualified,” Mather told the Rugby Journal.

Amy Turner

Turner was due to be the only female member of the Red Roses’ coaching team at this year’s World Cup in New Zealand, having been selected for World Rugby’s coaching internship programme, but the 38-year-old left the set-up in the summer to take charge of Premier 15s side Harlequins.

A former England international who previously coached the women’s under-20 squad, Turner worked as a police officer before choosing to concentrate on her coaching career. Having experienced the intensity of working within the international set-up, would she be tempted by a move back?

“I’d never say never,” she told Telegraph Sport earlier 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, it’s a new type of environment that I’ve been exposed to as a coach and I’m loving the journey.”

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