It has been a tumultuous year for the England age-grade pathway, with sweeping changes that have failed to bring the desired results on the pitch.
The coaching trio of John Fletcher, Peter Walton and Russell Earnshaw were let go in June of 2018, with Jim Mallinder brought in at the under-18 level to work with fellow new hire Steve Bates at the under-20 level and Dean Ryan as Head of International Player Development.
The new-look pathway staff has since been disbanded, however, as Ryan has taken the director of rugby job at the Dragons, Mallinder is now the performance director at the Scottish Rugby Union and Bates was released after a disappointing season that saw the England under-20 side finish third in the Six Nations and fifth in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
Italy head coach Conor O’Shea, who is currently preparing his side for their Rugby World Cup opener against Namibia, has been heavily linked with a return to the Rugby Football Union (RFU), where he spent three seasons as Director of Regional Academies between 2005 and 2008. Fuel has only been added to the fire of those rumours by the stories circulating that Wales assistant coach Rob Howley could take over as Italy head coach after the Rugby World Cup.
Which of the three vacant roles O’Shea would be in the mix for remains to be seen, although RugbyPass understands that current Harlequins academy coach Mark Mapletoft is one of the names being considered for the vacant under-20 head coach position.
Mapletoft knows O’Shea well from their time together at Harlequins, where Mapletoft served as backs, attack and head coach during the Irishman’s tenure. The 47-year-old is well-acquainted with the RFU, too, having spent four years there as a National Academy Coach and serving as backs and head coach with the under-20 side.
Formerly Harlequins’ head coach, Mapletoft transitioned into a role with the club’s academy this summer, as Head of Rugby Paul Gustard rebalanced his coaching staff following the arrival of Sean Long from St Helens.
RugbyPass understands that Newcastle Falcons academy and skills coach Mark Laycock is another person in the RFU’s sights, as the governing body attempts to put the recent instability to bed and revive England’s fortunes on the age-grade pathway.
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