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Ben Kay: 'I really feel England are lacking leadership'

The countdown is on for the World Cup and Steve Borthwick doesn't have a moment to spare to turn his squad into contenders

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Why the Red Roses need female representation: 'It's a massive opportunity missed.'

By Rachael Burford
Simon Middleton, Head Coach of England and Scott Bemand, Attack Coach of England interact during an England Red Roses Captain's Run at Sandy Park on September 02, 2022 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Harry Trump - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

People have asked me if I think Simon Middleton should stay as England’s head coach. I think England need something different and new, you could argue if there wasn’t the red card during the final, would the same conversations be happening, but regardless, you’ve always got to have those conversations.


For me, it’s a natural time for a change, I’m not saying that Simon isn’t capable of doing the job and potentially taking the team to another World Cup final but maybe this is the right time for new voices, fresh ideas and different perspectives on things.

Time is ticking, it’s going to be January soon and by the end of March players will be in Six Nations prep, so if things are going to change they need to happen quickly or if they are staying with the status quo, that needs to be announced soon too.

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In terms of the post-World Cup RFU performance review, I think it would have been good for the public to know what the process is behind it and who is involved. The fact that they are not making the findings public is disappointing.

I also find myself asking the question, does the coaching set up need to look different physically? Is it lacking a female representative in there?

Speaking from personal experience, having Amy Turner come in as head coach at Harlequins, there’s a whole list of reasons why this suits me as a female player. She’s a former player and teammate, has a slightly different perspective on things, can really relate, is really empathic and I think there is a place for that in a team of female athletes.

When I first played for England in 2006, Giselle Mather was my backs coach and she made the experience so positive. She’s a mother, I was a young player, and having that role model and someone with motherly instincts around me 100% had an impact, and that’s no disrespect to the male coaches at the time. I’m just not sure they’d have picked up on those smaller aspects.


If you think about how young the current England team is, there is a massive cohort below the age of 25. I think it could be a real asset to have a female coach involved who could really impact on that group. A lot of our male coaches that England have had have played high level rugby but not played for or captained their country and there are a lot of women who can bring that insight, empathy, understanding and perspective to the table for the Red Roses.

Why would we not invest in having women coaches involved in the programme? And I mean officially, not in an interim role or on a coaching scheme, but fully integrated, fully part of decisions, fully part of developing and running the programme, it’s a must in my opinion.

Also for me, former players such as Rocky Clark retiring when she did, she was always one of the best scrummagers in the world, as was Sophie Hemming and you ask yourself, why didn’t England get them involved when you’ve got the likes of Sarah Bern, Shaunagh Brown, Hannah Botterman, learning how to be world class props? It begs the bigger question of why the Red Roses don’t utilise the rich experience of past players?

Tamara Taylor was queen of the lineout and ran that set piece for the best part of ten years, why not utilise that experience to mentor someone like an Abbie Ward? I myself, would be keen to be a mentor to the current England players, or perhaps previous captains such as Sue Day, Jo Yapp, Catherine Spencer, Gill Burns- why not leverage their support in the leadership programmes in the team?


You see Wayne Smith do it ahead of the World Cup earlier this year, calling on experienced All Blacks. But these women who have played for England, a lot of them are qualified Level 3 or Level 4 coaches, they have years of experience, I think it’s a no brainer to get them inside and bolster that. You would also hope they call upon the likes of Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt when they leave the programme.

You don’t want too many voices, but why didn’t we have a Katy Daley Mclean mentoring Zoe Harrison or Helena Rowland going into their first World Cups? She’s a World Cup winning captain and ten and also brings that female perspective. Let’s utilise the greatness of what England has created over the years and have them involved in some shape or form. It’s surprisingly not been considered and down to lack of creativity. Sadly, I think it’s a massive opportunity missed for the team.

From an English perspective, when you lose a World Cup, it’s challenging to come home from that competition and focus on what’s next. You’re grieving from the pain from losing something that you focussed on for so long. I would argue that this cycle is different though, this is such a tight turnround between now and 2025. You have three Six Nations campaigns which is 15 games, and three more games in the WXV each year, so if you actually look at how many games you’ll have before the next World Cup, it isn’t many.

As 2025 is in England, they’ll be keen to build on what they’ve created over the past few years with their fan base and I bet they can’t wait to get back out and back to winning ways, with the Six Nations match against France at Twickenham already on the horizon!

With the World Cup behind us now, we look forward to next year and the start of the new global tournament, WXV. One of the reasons why Rugby World Cup 2021 was such a success and the standard was so high, was due to the amount of fixtures the teams had leading into that tournament in comparison to previous World Cups, all teams went in really well prepared.

As well as provide more game time to nations, the WXV will also allow us to keep building those narratives and stories surrounding the game which captures the personalities of the players. We don’t want to hear from the likes of Ruby Tui, every four years, we want to see her monthly or even weekly. Ultimately, that’s why people invest as they feel connected to the players and teams.

The WXV has the potential to sustain those story lines, build more knowledge around the different teams and get rid of any preconceptions people might have had around certain nations by being able to watch them play on a more regular basis, and not just in World Cup years.


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