England women’s head coach Simon Middleton admitted a ‘different feeling’ following last year’s World Cup led to his decision to step down, and that the Red Roses need new leadership to progress ahead of his final tournament in charge.
Last week, the 57-year-old announced he will be leaving after eight years at the helm following the 2023 Six Nations.
During his tenure, England won five Six Nations titles – including four Grand Slams – and made two trips to the World Cup final in 2017 and 2022.
Middleton also led England to a world record 30-game win streak and headed a transformational growth period in the sport but professed that now was the right time for a new voice.
He said: “To be honest for the good of the programme and for the good of myself we’d be better off if I stepped away from it at this point.
“I was waiting for that feeling to start really generating again and a couple of months post World Cup I’m thinking, there’s something not where it needs to be now.
“That buzz should be there and it’s not, that suggests to me you’re ready for a new challenge.”
Three months ago, England fell short in their second World Cup under Middleton following their dramatic 34-31 loss to New Zealand in last year’s World Cup final, which capped off a transcendent tournament for women’s rugby.
However, the veteran head coach, who became the first head coach of a woman’s team to be awarded World Rugby Coach of the Year in 2021, stated that the outcome of that chaotic World Cup final was not the deciding factor in him leaving England’s coaching set-up.
He said: “I’m not quite sure winning it would have made me feel any different to losing it if I’m honest, I think it’s just got to the end of that part of the journey.”
Middleton further admitted that the prospect of coaching England through their home 2025 World Cup campaign was extremely enticing and did not rule out the possibility of staying involved with the sport.
“If they hadn’t announced that the 2025 World Cup was going to be in England, I think my thought process going into the last World Cup would have been much clearer and that would have been that it will be time,” he explained.
“You never leave the sport do you, rugby stays with you forever once you’re involved with it, I still see myself being involved somewhere along the line.”
Despite the announcement, Middleton’s focus remains solely on England’s upcoming Six Nations campaign as they begin their bid for a fifth straight title on March 25th when they face Scotland at Kingston Park.
The tournament’s importance for the growth of women’s rugby is significant as England will play their first stand-alone fixture at Twickenham when they host France in the final round of the tournament, a big step towards the RFU’s aim of filling out the iconic stadium for a women’s game by the end of the 2025 World Cup.
Middleton expressed that he couldn’t think of a better place to exit on the prospect of his final game in charge being played in front of a record crowd for women’s rugby.
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