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Axe hanging over Ashton

By Simon Austin

Brian Ashton
A new coach could be in place before England's summer tour

Brian Ashton is facing the sack as England's head coach after only 15 months in the job, BBC Sport understands.

Only an excellent performance and convincing win against Ireland in England's final Six Nations match this weekend will save him from getting the chop.

Ashton's sacking has not yet been formally discussed by his employers at the Rugby Football Union and possible successors have not been sounded out, yet patience with him has almost run out.

The abysmal non-performance against Scotland last weekend was the final straw for some within the RFU.

606: DEBATE

Elite performance director Rob Andrew will complete his Six Nations report after the weekend and submit recommendations to the RFU board.

If he recommends the appointment of a new coaching team, the RFU will look to move quickly and implement changes in time for England's summer tour of New Zealand.

The RFU is open to the idea of recruiting an overseas coach for the first time in England's history.

Should Ashton go, the emphasis would simply be on appointing a coach of stature and experience, who could avert the slide that has taken place since the 2003 World Cup.

The success of New Zealander Warren Gatland with Wales has certainly been noted in the corridors of power at Twickenham.

It could be an excellent time for a new coach to come in. England are at a low ebb and fans' expectations have been lowered.

But, even more than that, the new agreement with the clubs - which gives England unprecedented access to the players and control over them - kicks in during July.

The RFU is desperate to get things back on track and would give a new coach a big say in both the structure and make-up of his coaching team.

Ashton has undoubtedly been hampered by the fact he was not able to pick his own assistants and that he and his forwards coach John Wells have very different ideas about how England should play.

Danny Cipriani
RFU bosses backed Ashton's handling of Cipriani
If the criteria for a new coach is someone who has been there and done it at the highest level, few are better qualified than South Africa's World Cup-winning coach Jake White.

Although White is currently taking a break from rugby in order to pursue business interests, BBC Sport understands he would be interested in the job.

Ashton, an imaginative and capable coach, has appeared to be a good man in the wrong job.

He has also suffered at the hands of the media because of his refusal to play the public relations game.

For example, it was widely reported after the World Cup that England's players were universally disillusioned with their coach.

In fact, when the player questionnaires were collected at the end of the tournament - many of them filled in anonymously - they were found to be largely positive.

The Lancastrian was also panned for his handling of the Danny Cipriani affair last week, despite the fact that Ashton's side of the story would have been very different, had he chosen to make it public.

His RFU bosses also fully backed the way he handled the situation.

However, as the old cliché goes, it is results on the pitch that count.

And only a vintage performance against Ireland on Saturday, which this England team seems incapable of, will save Ashton.




see also
Axing Wilkinson was 'ridiculous'
13 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
We need to deliver, says Vickery
12 Mar 08 |  English
'Fire still burns' for Wilkinson
12 Mar 08 |  English
Cipriani takes Wilkinson's place
11 Mar 08 |  English
Ashton determined to make amends
09 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Ireland 43-13 England
24 Feb 07 |  Rugby Union


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