England Rugby
Kirwan admits defeat in bid for England job
ESPNscrum Staff
March 2, 2012
Japan coach John Kirwan, Japan press conference, Kingsgate Hotel, Hamilton, New Zealand, September 14, 2011
Former All Black John Kirwan is hoping for a high-profile coaching post © Getty Images

Former Italy and Japan coach John Kirwan has revealed that he didn't make the shortlist to become England's now boss.

The 47-year-old former All Blacks star has been informed by head-hunters Odgers Berndtson that he was not being put forward to the interview stage because he has not coached a leading a rugby nation. Kirwan, who has coached at three Rugby World Cups, was told there were two other candidates who did meet that criteria - thought to be former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett and ex-Ireland and USA boss Eddie O'Sullivan.

"They (Odgers) contacted me saying I wouldn't go on to the next stage because they had a couple of other candidates that had more international experience than me," Kirwan told Press Association Sport. "They were looking for someone with a higher international profile. I understand that. They started out with something in mind and they are heading down that track."

England's current interim coach Stuart Lancaster has also reached the interview stage. But if the Rugby Football Union's brief is for a coach with sustained top-flight international experience, then that would appear to count against him no matter what England achieve in the remainder of the Six Nations.

Kirwan immediately back Mallett to step into the void. "I think Nick Mallett would be perfect for it. Nick is the ideal mix," he added. "He is highly intelligent, he understands what a team needs to win and he gets the best out of players. It will be a high-pressure situation (coaching England) into a home World Cup (in 2015). I think Nick would be a great candidate for the job."

The RFU will be conducting interviews over the next three weeks with a view to making an appointment before the end of the Six Nations.

Lancaster has restored a sense of pride in the national team and his work to clean up the image of English rugby has impressed Twickenham executives. However, Lancaster has been in charge for just three Tests - two dogged away wins against Scotland and Italy followed by a home defeat to Wales, where the disappointment of the result was eased by an encouraging performance.

Kirwan, who put himself forward for the interim job, has been impressed by Lancaster and believes he is Mallet's main rival - but he warned the RFU not to base their decision on results alone. "Stuart so far has been saying and doing all the right things. So far he has been good. I think it is between those two," Kirwan said.

"The RFU will need to be cold about it and assess who will be the right guy to lead the side through to your own World Cup and not make the mistakes of a debutant. How many times did it take Clive Woodward and Graham Henry to win the World Cup? Two each.

"A World Cup is a special tournament. I am the most experienced World Cup coach there is and I know it like the back of my hand. I thought that might give me a bit of an in but it was always a long shot.

"I would like to be involved but I think there would have been a risk element in selecting me because I haven't had the experience of coaching a top eight side. I can understand that. For me it was nothing ventured, nothing gained. The process was very professional."

Mallett coached South Africa on a 17-Test unbeaten run and past England into the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup before enjoying club success with Stade Francais and a four-year stint in charge of Italy.

Critics of the Mallett option argue that the highlights of his career were achieved over a decade ago - and in 2009 he selected the Italian flanker Mauro Bergamasco to play at scrum-half against England. But Kirwan, who still lives in Italy, does not underestimate the job Mallett did in charge of the Azzurri, which included a first Six Nations win against France last season.

"Nick did a very good job over here. It can be harder coaching a team like Italy or Japan," said Kirwan. "He certainly won some football games and as you have seen in the last Six Nations that is not easy to do with the Italian side."

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