Alan Dickens is the latest coach to join the England age-grade ranks as it was today announced that he would be joining the RFU as the England U20 Head Coach.
Dickens joins from Northampton Saints, where he has served as attack coach and, most recently, defence coach. The former scrum half has experience in the England set up, having previously worked with the England Saxons as defence coach for their 2016 South African tour.
The appointment of the former scrum half, whose clubs included Sale Sharks, Yorkshire Carnegie, Saracens, and Saints, follows the appointment of Jonathan Pendlebury to the England U18 Head Coach post earlier in October.
Following years of upheaval in the age-grade coaching ranks, the RFU appear to be taking steps to try to stabilize the system now with these appointments. Having let go previous U20 Head Coach Steve Bates and the U18 triumvirate of John Fletcher, Peter Walton, and Russell Earnshaw under the reign of then Head of International Player Development Dean Ryan, eyebrows were being raised at the loss of such highly rated coaches, then in August Jim Malinder left the pathway to join the Scottish Rugby Union.
These appointments seem to be the start of covering those losses, and leave one major vacancy still to be filled, that of Head of International Player Development after Dean Ryan left for the Dragons at the end of last season.
Conor O’Shea has already left his position as Head Coach of Italy, and the RFU have announced that he will be joining their ranks. Whilst it has not been confirmed that he will be taking over that Head of International Player Development role, it would seem a logical opening for him given that Eddie Jones remains in charge of the senior side and O’Shea has previously worked in the pathway system at the RFU having been Director of the National Academy from 2005 to 2008.
As for Dickens, his first fixtures will be the 2020 U20 Six Nations Championship, before focus then moves on to the World Rugby U20 Championships, at which England had reached the last six finals up until last year’s fifth place finish. This year’s Championships are in Italy, who last hosted the tournament in 2015 with New Zealand beating England in the final.
RFU’s Pathway Coaching Timeline
2005-2008 – Conor O’Shea Director of the National Academy
2008 – John Fletcher and Peter Walton join the RFU
August 2016 – Dean Ryan joins as Head of International Player Development
July 2017 – Don Barrell appointed Head of Regional Academies
June 2018 – Fletcher, Walton, Russell Earnshaw (all U18/pathway) sacked/left
May 2019 – Ryan leave for Dragons
July 2019 – Steve Bates (U20/pathway) left
August 2019 – Jim Mallinder (pathway) left for Scotland
October 2019 – Jonathan Pendlebury appointed England Pathway Coach and England U18 Head Coach, from Wasps Academy Manager, starts mid-Jan 2020
October 2019 – Conor O’Shea to England – “senior position”, start date TBC
November 2019 – Alan Dickens appointed England U20 Head Coach from Northampton Saints.