Tom Palmer, the former England, Wasps and Gloucester lock, completed a remarkable clean sweep of domestic and European titles and is hoping to be the latest player to launch an English coaching career from France. Fellow ex-Wasps player Alex King, the former Clermont and Montpellier assistant coach who helped Northampton win the 2013-14 Premiership, has just been appointed as Gloucester’s attack coach while in January, Ian Vass swapped the defence coach role with Montpellier to do the same job at Northampton.
Also in France is Joe Worsley, the former England and Wasps World Cup winner, who has spent his coaching career in France and is currently with Castres after seven years with Bordeaux. Rory Teague, who has just been axed by Gloucester, also spent time at Bordeaux with former Bristol flanker Joe El-Abd coaching at Castres and Oyonnax while at the very top of the sport in France, Shaun Edwards is the national team’s defence coach having crossed the Channel after helping turn Wales into Europe’s top team.
Palmer is fluent in French having played for Stade Francais and Bordeaux and also spent a season in Italy having won 42 caps for England. He is currently the defence and assistant forwards coach at Rouen, working alongside head coach Richard Hill, the former England scrum-half and captain, who has enjoyed a long coaching career across the Channel.
While Hill appears happy to continue operating in France, Palmer admits following King back into English rugby would be his target after gaining more experience of life in the Pro D2, the second flight of the French professional rugby system. Rouen were facing the drop before the season was ended due to the pandemic but Palmer is confident of a better showing when next season gets underway thanks to the arrival of new players including Carl Fearns from Lyon, Phil Swainson (Harlequins), James Johnston (Brive) and Marvin Woki (Tarbes).
Palmer’s playing career brought a Powergen Cup win with Leeds, the Premiership and Heineken Cup in Wasps colours and the European Challenge Cup while at Gloucester and he keeps a close eye on the state of the Gallagher Premiership where King will be working with outside half Danny Cipriani, another ex-Wasps favourite.
The 41-year-old Palmer told RugbyPass: “I would love to come back and coach in England but there are certainly more opportunities in France because of the two full-time professional leagues and being bilingual is useful. I am doing my French coaching diploma which is similar to Level 4 in England and it is something you need in France. It is the equivalent of a degree.
“I am really enjoying my coaching at Rouen and when I signed for Treviso it was to run the line out, but I ended being the player coach and was sort of thrust into it. I really enjoyed the experience and decided that I wanted to coach after my playing career ended and then I went to Bordeaux and got more experience and then a year in Aurillac and this is my second year with Rouen.
“We have signed some good players like Carl Fearns, James Johnston and Phil Swainson for next season. The problem coming up to Pro D2 into this season was the timing of play-off system.
“It means you don’t know if you are going to get promoted to Pro D2 until you win the final in the middle of June and then you have to go out and try to sign players.
“That was a really tough ask last summer but we have now added some real quality to our group. With the ending of the season due to the pandemic it has meant we have also been able to have a proper pre-season rather than finishing in June and then back into it at the end of August.
“The idea that training is broken up by a nice glass of wine is long gone in French rugby, however, being a Pro D2 team the infrastructure isn’t as good as say the Premiership but we have a great coaching staff and we are building quite well.
“Richard Hill is the head coach and the coaching is bilingual because we have a number of players who speak English. We had a bad run in January and February losing matches by a point in the final minutes and so the break has helped.”
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