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Exclusive: England to name John Mitchell as new women's head coach

By Jon Newcombe
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

John Mitchell is set to be unveiled as the new England women’s head coach following the departure of Simon Middleton. RugbyPass understands that an announcement will be made by the RFU on Wednesday just days after the Red Roses clinched a fifth consecutive TikTok Women’s Six Nations title in Middleton’s 77th and final match in charge.

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Whereas Middleton had a low-key coaching CV when he took on the Red Roses role eight years ago, Mitchell comes with a wealth of international experience but whether he can match Middleton’s success in the women’s game remains to be seen.

A former uncapped All Blacks forward, Mitchell was an assistant coach with England in the early years of Clive Woodward’s reign before taking on the top job with New Zealand after a year in Super Rugby with the Chiefs.

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Abby Dow post match interview | Women’s Six Nations

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Abby Dow post match interview | Women’s Six Nations

Failure to win the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks in 2003 led him to leave the role and he subsequently linked up with his home province Waikato before coaching Western Force and Lions in Super Rugby as well as a very brief stint at Sale in the English Premiership.

After a long period outside of the Test arena, he returned to coach the USA to their first major title in 15s rugby in 83 years when they won the Americas Rugby Championship in 2017. Under Mitchell, the USA also qualified for Rugby World Cup 2019 in record time, earning the Americas 1 spot for the first time in history.

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However, like a number of his appointments, Mitchell’s time with the USA was short-lived and he left after just 16 Tests and 18 months at the helm to go to the Blue Bulls in South Africa where he was previously based for a number of years. It was not long before Mitchell was back in demand, though, as Eddie Jones appointed him as his England defence coach in September 2018.

Five months after signing a contract extension that would take him through to RWC 2023, Mitchell surprisingly quit in the summer of 2021 to return to club rugby as attack coach of Wasps. Wasps then agreed to let Mitchell support Japan in their preparations for RWC 2023 alongside his role with them.

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The much-travelled Mitchell has been on the lookout for new opportunities ever since the Premiership club ceased trading in October and he will now link up with England women. He has a tough act to follow and while his pedigree is without dispute, some in the women’s game will be disappointed the Red Roses have failed to give the job to a female coach.

Except for missing out in two Rugby World Cup finals, Middleton’s eight-year tenure has been one of unadulterated success. A dual-code player, Middleton first cut his coaching teeth at Leeds during the club’s most successful period under Phil Davies. Leeds qualified for the Heineken Cup and defied the odds to win the 2005 Powergen Cup and it was while Middleton was there that then Red Roses head coach Gary Street asked him to assist him on a part-time basis in the build-up to RWC 2010.

After another short-term spell assisting the Red Roses in 2012, Middleton began working full-time with the team as an assistant coach ahead of their victorious RWC 2014 campaign, the same year he started coaching the country’s women’s team on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

The Yorkshireman graduated to head coach in 2015, initially in a joint role with sevens which also included taking the GB women’s team to the Rio Olympics, and has since taken England to Rugby World Cup finals in 2017 and 2022, won half-a-dozen Six Nations titles, five of them Grand Slams, and led the team on a record 30-match winning run.

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In 2021, Middleton became the first head coach of a women’s team to win the World Rugby coach of the year award. It was also the year he was appointed as an MBE. In February 2023, Middleton announced he would depart as the Red Roses head coach at the end of this year’s Women’s Six Nations.

Fittingly, his ground-breaking tenure concluded on a landmark day for the women’s game with a 38-33 win in the title decider against France in front of a world record crowd of 58,498 at Twickenham.

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Comments

3 Comments
S
Shippers 409 days ago

Not sure this is a very ambitious appointment. I was hoping to see maybe a former England Women Player head up and utilise the players from the 2016 era as coaching staff.
I am sure John Mitchell is a good coach….. but is he World Class? Looking at his pedigree I worry that RFU are settling for a Championship Quality Manager rather than a Premiership Quality and just hoping he will step up to the challenge. It will be interesting to see what former players if any are used as coaches to support this appointment and new era.
I hope my worries are ill founded and wish Mr Mitchell and the staff he appoints all the best for the next few years. You have the success of female rugby testing on your shoulders.

a
alan 410 days ago

I hope Mitchell's tough and direct style works OK for the women's team...

P
Poorfour 410 days ago

This could be a very exciting appointment. While it would be great to have a female head coach for the women's team, I think realistically there aren't that many with the international pedigree to manage a side that will be expected to deliver a victory in its home world cup against improving French and NZ sides.

It would be great to see some female assistant coaches as part of the setup, though, so that the RFU can begin building for the future.

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