Eddie Jones’ contract with England runs through to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, but England should already be looking to the future, and that future is Exeter Chief’s Director of Rugby Rob Baxter.
This is not a case of replacing Eddie Jones before he has even got started, nor is it an attempt to relieve the Chiefs of their most vital asset. Instead, this is an encouragement for the RFU to take a longer term view and ensure that once Eddie Jones steps down from the top job, a ready-made replacement is already in place.
What other coach, not just in England, but across the globe can boast (not that Baxter would) of having taken their side from the second division to the final of the top domestic competition in less than six years. Throw in a narrow European quarter final loss and you have the makings of one of the great success stories of professional rugby.
Not only is Baxter now achieving the success his work so thoroughly deserves, but the way he has gone about it is admirable. Over the last six years, Baxter has taken a team of players virtually nobody outside of Exeter had heard of, and developed them into one of the best teams in Europe.
Not only has he helped Championship players step up to the Premiership, but he has also brought through some of the most exciting young talents in the UK. The likes of Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Tomas Francis and and Luke Cowan-Dickie are either established international players, or on the verge of becoming so.
The Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby has also shown a keen eye for developing players into top performers. The likes of Thomas Waldrom, Geoff Parling, Julian Salvi and Dean Mumm have all arrived at Sandy Park and seemed to take on another step in their development despite arriving during the latter years of their careers.
So not only does Rob Baxter now have experience of taking Exeter to the biggest stages in both domestic and European rugby, he has also shown an ability to develop young talent whilst also blending in a smattering of more established stars, all whilst resisting the temptation to splurge big on signings unlike some other clubs.
It is for these reasons that Baxter looks like the ideal man to take over from Eddie Jones when his tenure as England Head Coach ends. It is therefore absolutely vital that the RFU are already beginning their succession planning to avoid the difficulties they have had when the likes of Martin Johnson and Stuart Lancaster have stepped down.
It would be a waste of resource to bring Baxter on full time at this stage, however having him involved with the summer tours as a bare minimum would help expose him to the current England set up, and allow him to learn and develop under the tutelage of Jones. He has already been on England’s tour of Argentina three years ago, so there is no reason this can’t be repeated over the next couple of years.
England could then look at bringing him on full time at the end of the 2019 season allowing him to spend the full World Cup camp within the England squad where he can properly learn the ropes. This would ensure Exeter have sufficient time in which to find or develop a successor, whilst England would have a new Head Coach ready to step straight in once the World Cup has ended.