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England boss Simon Middleton says ‘right person’ will be best to succeed him

Simon Middleton says “the right person will be the best person” to succeed him as England head coach, whether they are male or female.

Middleton steps down after the Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam showdown against France at Twickenham on Saturday.

During his time in charge, England have reached two World Cup finals, won five Six Nations titles and four Grand Slams.

Sarina Wiegman
England manager Sarina Wiegman oversaw the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 success (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Red Roses also embarked on a 30-game unbeaten run that ended with defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup final last year.

Sarina Wiegman led England’s Lionesses to success at Women’s Euro 2022, and there are many in English rugby who would like to see a female appointment, post-Middleton.

“We have got some very good coaches/directors of rugby-style females in the game,” Middleton said.

“Giselle Mather (Ealing Trailfinders director of rugby) is one, Jo Yapp (Worcester women’s head coach) being one, Susie Appleby (Exeter Chiefs head coach) being another.

“A lot of it is relevant to the team you build around you and how you manage that team of staff. The right person will be the best person.”

Marlie Packer, who will captain England in front of a record crowd for a women’s match of more than 53,000 on Saturday, added: “For me, I think it is the right person for the job.

“Whether it is a male or female, I don’t mind. I think that is what most of the squad think as well.

“We just want to be pushed as players to be the best players we can. We want someone who is going to give us a new drive, and it doesn’t matter who it is.”

Marlie Packer
Marlie Packer scores a try during England’s Six Nations victory over Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)

The immediate focus of Middleton and Packer is to complete another Six Nations clean sweep, ending a tournament that has so far seen the Red Roses score 233 points and concede just 15.

France, though, are also unbeaten, and it promises to be a thrilling spectacle as Middleton bids farewell.

“The magnitude of the game this weekend is a huge distraction from potentially everything else,” he said.

“It has been a real privilege to be part of it, and we just desperately want to make sure we finish it in the right way on Saturday.

“What we want is more occasions like this one. The beauty about one of these occasions is it sends a massive message out about what is achievable, and it puts pressure on others to respond positively.”

Middleton has made four changes from the team that saw off Ireland 48-0 in Cork last weekend.

Centre Helena Rowland makes her first start of the Six Nations campaign, partnering Tatyana Heard in midfield, while scrum-half Lucy Packer, hooker Lark Davies and prop Sarah Bern also feature.

Packer, meanwhile, has allayed any fears about her fitness after going off injured in Ireland, and she packs down alongside back-row colleagues Sadia Kabaya and Alex Matthews.

“It is going to be a very special occasion,” Packer added. “To lead the squad out for a Six Nations Grand Slam decider is going to be epic.

“Simon will leave a massive legacy. The group has massive respect for him, what he has done for us as a group and for the women’s game.

“When he told me he was leaving, I gave him a hug and said, ‘Right, let’s go and win this Six Nations, let’s send you off properly’.”

Team: E Kildunne (Saracens); A Dow (Harlequins), H Rowland (Loughborough), T Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury), C MacDonald (Exeter); H Aitchison (Saracens), L Packer (Harlequins); H Botterman (Saracens), L Davies (Bristol), S Bern (Bristol), Z Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), S Beckett (Gloucester-Hartpury), S Kabeya (Loughborough), M Packer (Saracens, capt), A Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury).

Replacements: C Powell (Gloucester-Hartpury), M Carson (Saracens), M Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury), P Cleall (Saracens), N Talling (Loughborough), N Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury), A Reed (Bristol), J Breach (Saracens).

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