English Rugby
Thompson backs Mallett for England
ESPNscrum Staff
December 2, 2011

England hooker Steve Thompson believes Nick Mallett and Wayne Smith would be the perfect combination to lead the nation into the 2015 World Cup.

Thompson, the England and Wasps hooker, defended former boss Martin Johnson and insisted the players had to take responsibility for their World Cup failings in New Zealand. The 33-year-old also laid into a so-called culture of expectation that led to claims some of England's World Cup players were more focused on money than rugby.

Mallett, the former South Africa, Stade Francais and Italy coach is the leading candidate to replace Johnson in charge of England. And Smith, the former Northampton boss, is regarded as one of the best rugby brains in the game, having helped New Zealand win the 2011 World Cup.

Thompson said: "I have had a few conversations with him (Mallett) in the past. I have been very impressed with him. When he was in France he spoke fluent French, he bought into the culture and led Stade Francais to the title.

"In Italy, he spoke fluent Italian. He went in there, found out their culture, bought into their mentality and still brought his own. He has coached all around the world. We want coaches with worldwide experience. Look at Wayne Smith for New Zealand. He has exactly that. He went back there after all his experience with Northampton."

Asked if Mallett and Smith would be his management dream-team, Thompson said: "That would be outstanding". But the 2003 World Cup-winner believes it is important for the new England set-up to include a home-grown coach such as Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder.

"I am a true Englishman and I look at Fabio Capello with the football team and I am not sure," Thompson said. "If you can, perhaps you could have (English coaches) as part of the management and then you can bring them through.

"We have a young coach like Mallinder who could do it. Mike Catt as a backs coach. For me it is exciting. We have a World Cup in England in four years' time. I really do believe we can win that.

"I know we didn't have a good World Cup but they are Six Nations champions with so much talent coming through. People have made mistakes but they won't do it again, we will move forward."

In order to move forward, Thompson insisted England must address the issue raised by Rob Andrew in his leaked World Cup report, that "some players were more focused on money than rugby". Thompson, a builder turned 2003 World Cup-winner, believes modern young players are spoiled and that the whole game needs to undergo a cultural shift.

"I think some of the lads get everything given to them before they have done anything," Thompson said. "I don't think it is just the (culture of the current England) squad, it is rugby as a whole.

"I am a bit old-school. When I was at Northampton I looked at Tim Rodber, I would see him training day in, day out training, as fit as you like, as strong as you like and I wanted to learn off him. Now, do players look at some of the bigger players and the car he drives and the commercial deals he has got rather than the nitty gritty of how has he got there?

"That has been sneaking into the game and hopefully now it will stamp it out a little bit. Rugby as a whole has had a kick up the backside and we can all pull it together.

"I think agents have to start taking responsibility for it as well. Yes, they have a product in a player but that player has to play well on the pitch. It is about getting that balance right. Perhaps it has swayed a little bit the wrong way and hopefully now it is coming back.

"It is about the rugby. It is not going to be there forever. Embrace it and think you are lucky to do that."

Thompson believes Stuart Lancaster, who has been tipped as England's interim Six Nations coach, is the right man to start that cultural shift. "I think Lancaster would be great for it," said Thompson. "He was over in the World Cup and seeing what was going on and I am sure he will be thinking 'this is what I need to do'.

"He is a massive RFU man and he would be a great person to step in."

Johnson stood down as manager after England's quarter-final exit at the World Cup and his leadership was questioned by some players in anonymous feedback that was leaked to The Times. But Thompson said: "The players have to take responsibility for what happens.

"Johnno is an absolute legend. There are people above him who haven't behaved very well, people below him haven't but he has taken it all on his own shoulders. It annoys me when people talk badly about him. There are not many people who would have held their head up like he did and taken the bang that he did when I think there are other people who should put their hand up and say 'we were wrong'."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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