The English Rugby Football Union interim chief executive, Nigel Melville, is planning to speak to Warren Gatland as part of his search for Eddie Jones's successor as England head coach.
Gatland will leave his role as Wales head coach after nearly 12 years in the job after next year’s World Cup and is yet to announce his subsequent plans. Melville, whose top priority as Steve Brown’s acting replacement at the RFU is to lead the search for Jones’s successor, appointed Gatland as Wasps’ forwards coach in 2002.
Melville did suggest his preference was to identify an Englishman for the role, confirming he would have no issue approaching Stuart Lancaster, but revealed he would be taking to the New Zealander Gatland, who has led the last two Lions tours.
“Warren’s a very good coach but I’m not sure what his plans are,” said Melville. “I’ll speak to Warren and a number of others and then we’ll see. We want the best person for the job. I am English, this is England, of course it would be great to have an English coach. But we have got to have the best coach for the job.”
Lancaster has come back into the equation after his stock has risen substantially with Leinster since he was unceremoniously sacked by the RFU after the 2015 World Cup. A role under Andy Farrell at Ireland is more likely but Melville did not rule out an approach. "I haven't spoken to Stuart so [I'M]not sure if it's the path that he sees for himself," added Melville. "I'll be meeting with everyone who is a potential target for us and I'll make the list based on that. I don't know what other people might be thinking but all our top English coaches will be contacted. We will talk to a lot of people about who we will put on our radar. Certainly a lot of English coaches will be on that list, and a smaller number of overseas coaches that you would say will probably be the right fit."
While Wales and Ireland have both announced their post-World Cup succession plans – Wayne Pivac and Farrell will replace Gatland and Joe Schmidt respectively – England do not intend to approach any candidates until next year and, as was the case when Ian McGeechan and Conor O'Shea were among those consulted over Lancaster's appointment, the RFU will set up an advisory panel.
After Jones signed a contract extension last January until 2021 – with a break clause if England flop at next year’s World Cup – the RFU is planning for two eventualities. At the time Brown explained the RFU’s ideal scenario was to appoint a successor to work under Jones after the World Cup but, while Farrell is now out of the running, Melville, who has compiled an extensive spreadsheet of potential candidates, insisted England are not behind schedule. “Good luck to them, [they’ve appointed],” he added. “Their coach had decided that he was leaving at end of World Cup, ours isn’t. We’re transitioning through, we want a handover and not be cut off straight away because there will be a lot of learnings from the World Cup that will be important.”
Meanwhile, Melville confirmed he would be speaking to the Rugby Players’ Association after a survey published on Tuesday produced a number of alarming findings, including that 45 per cent of players felt pressured to train or play when not fully fit. The survey, which consulted 350 players from 24 countries, also found that 54 per cent of players felt Tests should not be played outside the international window, as was the case with England’s opening autumn encounter, against South Africa.
In addition, more than a quarter (28 per cent) surveyed said they had hidden head injuries. “It is about putting the players at the centre of everything we do,” said Melville. “We have to look after our players. Their careers are pretty short. We have to make sure they have the best opportunity to maximise their potential.”