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An ex-Test player claims Rob Baxter is 'wrong man for England job'

By Kim Ekin
(Photo by Getty Images)

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Ex-England international Austin Healey has explained why he feels Rob Baxter would be the wrong man to succeed Eddie Jones as the Test team’s coach, suggesting instead that Saracens’ Mark McCall would be the better choice to take over after the 2023 World Cup. The RFU last week outlined their idea as to what they would be looking for in a coach to take on the position from Jones, whose existing contract ends after the tournament in France.

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This has started a succession race and Baxter curiously took questions on the topic at his weekly media briefing last Wednesday morning, admitting that he would be prepared to meet with English rugby chiefs to discuss their succession plans for Jones’ departure as England head coach but insisting clarity over the nature of the role was needed.

I would be happy to have a chat about what the role is, how they see it working and what their plans and ambitions are,” Baxter said about the England vacancy post the 2023 World Cup. “Unless you know what it is, it’s hard to say yes or no to anything. At the same time, I’m not looking for another job! I’m very happy here.”

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Former utility back Healey reckons Exeter is exactly where Baxter will remain as McCall has the better long term track record for delivering success. Writing in his latest UK Telegraph column, Healey wondered if this season’s inconsistent Gallagher Premiership form by the Chiefs in the race for the playoffs has prompted Baxter into pondering for the first time about a role away from Sandy Park. 

“With Baxter, this is the first season where Exeter have not shown signs of progress… It is not in Exeter’s hands anymore, which is a situation which Baxter will not be used to. But if you lose as many games at home as they have this season, then you arguably don’t deserve to be in the top four anyway.

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“Maybe this has led to Baxter thinking about his future, because I don’t think I have heard him answer that question about England before. And it has definitely been thrown at him many times over the years with Exeter’s success, whether he would like to coach England. I think Baxter could definitely do the job. But if the RFU is looking for a director of rugby, then perhaps Saracens’ Mark McCall would be the better option.

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“If you are looking for someone to put a coaching team together, then McCall has a better and longer track record of doing that. You either want a director of rugby who with few resources gets the best out of a side – like Steve Diamond or, for a better example, Warren Gatland from his time with Wales – or someone who is used to having lots of resources like McCall.

“I’m not sure the way Exeter are currently playing would work at Test level either,” added Healey later in his column on who the next England coach should be. “In internationals, you do not take those risks in your own half with maintaining possession for long periods of time, because the intensity is higher. Your fitness levels would need to be off the charts if you wanted to play that way.

“You are better off playing with that intensity, making a big impact over three to four phases, in the opposition’s half. I don’t think Exeter’s attacking game at present would work with England. They are too lateral across the backline. But their red-zone approach from three years ago certainly would. Having said all that, Baxter would adapt to whatever was required.

“I certainly don’t subscribe to the theory that Baxter has taken Exeter as far as he can. He could find another way to create success at Sandy Park, having already taken them from the second tier to becoming champions of Europe. They are one of the top sides on the continent because of Baxter’s planning and longevity. 

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“They do not make rash decisions or jump for the next shiny thing. He could be there for another ten years and Exeter would keep progressing under him. Unless, he has come to the point where he wants a new challenge in life. By the time 2023 rolls around, he might view England as a natural next step.”

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