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Why the search for a new England coach may lead to France

By Chris Jones
Joe Worsley and Alex King (Getty Images)

England are monitoring the progress of three French based coaches as they begin the task of preparing for life after Eddie Jones, who could leave the head coach role after next year’s World Cup.


Jones is contracted to continue in the role until 2021, but a poor World Cup showing would prompt an early departure with Nigel Melville, the acting RFU CEO, heading up the search for a replacement which starts in the New Year. Melville would like an Englishman to take up the role, supported by fellow countrymen which brings us to French exiles Joe Worsley (Bordeaux-Begles), Alex King (Montpellier) and Joe El Abd (Castres).

The RFU’s elite coaching development department is keeping tabs on all three coaches with El Abd the most high profile. In his role of forwards coach, El Abd helped Castres defy the odds and win the Top14 title last season and the 38-year-old former Toulon and Bristol flanker, is returning to Oyonnax, the club he left in 2015, to take up a director of rugby role at the end of this campaign.

Joe El Abd at 2008 Premiership launch as Bristol captain (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images for Guinness)

Ex-England No.10 King, 43, who helped Clermont Auvergne win the Top 14 title before a short period with Northampton, is the backs coach at big spending Montpellier under former Scotland coach Vern Cotter. Worsley, is currently the acting head coach at Bordeaux-Begles, having been in charge of their defence for six years.

World Cup winner Worsley took over the main role this season when Rory Teague, who was previously part of Eddie Jones’s England coaching team, was axed. Worsley will remain charge in until the arrival of Christophe Urios, who is quitting his role as head coach at champions Castres after accepting a four year deal with Bordeaux who are currently sixth in the table.

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With Rob Baxter, the Exeter director of rugby, and Newcastle’s Dean Richards initially distancing themselves from the debate over who should replace Jones, the RFU have to cast their net wide if they are to find home grown talent to fill the various roles under a new head coach. Melville, who will be favourite to land the CEO job on a full time basis, told RugbyPass; “The elite coaching development department is very much aware of the English coaches working abroad and go to watch them in action and keep up to date on how they are doing. No matter where our coaches are working, the department knows how their careers are progressing.”

Success in France will help keep the RFU interested in the progress of all three coaches with Worsley believing he must continue his self-imposed exile to gain the experience needed to bid for a place in the England coaching set up. Worsley celebrated a hard fought 17-14 European Challenge Cup win over Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday, having spent the match on the touchline in pouring rain constantly bellowing instructions to his team. The 78-times capped England and British and Irish Lions flanker, first joined the French club at the invitation of former Wasps team mate Raphael Ibanez and has retained his role despite regime changes at Bordeaux.

For Worsley, known as Melon to his team mates, his time in France has been hugely beneficial and he believes he needs to spend even longer in the uncompromising Top 14 to hone his coaching skills. He said: “I am not really ready to come back to England yet. I am OK where I am and need to get more experience and prove myself and the best place is to keep on getting that experience elsewhere. England will be there at some point.”

Kane Douglas, one of two Wallaby locks at the club, has been impressed with Worsley’s coaching since stepping up to the head coach role and said: “Joe is very honest and after being defence coach he has now taken over the manager’s role and knows his stuff and talks to all the boys. He tells you if what you are doing is good or bad and since Rory has left he has been a bit of fresh air and the boys are enjoying it. We know a new coach is coming in July so we have nothing to lose and just want to get stuck in.”


Douglas was an ever present as Australia finished runners-up at the 2015 World Cup to New Zealand, but does not expect to get a call from the Australian Rugby Union next year despite the Wallabies poor run of form. Fellow Bordeaux lock Luke Jones is returning to the Melbourne Rebels at the start of 2019 on a two-year deal, he’s immediately eligible to play for the Wallabies.

Having signed for Leinster, Douglas was lured back to Australian rugby at great expense and started in the 2015 World Cup final but does not want to repeat the experience. Douglas said; “I haven’t spoken to anyone and I have got out of contracts before and I don’t really want to do that again. I am at the club for two more seasons.”

Worsley added: “The ARU have come in the past for certain Australian players with us and you cannot stop a guy playing for his nation but we will cross that bridge if it happens.”

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