Losing defence guru Paul Gustard 15 months before the Rugby World Cup is a massive blow and a huge disruption to England head coach Eddie Jones and his plans for the tournament.
Gustard has been a constant of Jones’s reign but has agreed to become head of rugby at Harlequins upon returning from England’s three-Test tour of South Africa next month.
I’m quite surprised that the 42-year-old has gone with so much blessing, although it’s a dog eat dog business and very hard to begrudge a coach the opportunity to take up a top job, particularly at such a big club as Quins.
There is also the argument that England have hit a bit of a sticky spell and perhaps it is time to shake up the backroom team a little bit, have a fresh pair of eyes look at proceedings and build on the structures already in place.
I’m sure Jones, however, who has guided England to two Six Nations championships and a series whitewash in Australia with Gustard by his side, would have preferred the status quo and could have lived without this particular headache.
Shaun Edwards, an assistant to Wales boss Warren Gatland since 2008, and former rugby league player Brad Davis, who joined the Ospreys set up in 2016, have been touted as possible replacements.
I’m convinced both would offer quality counsel and coaching, although I doubt either would be as good as Gustard.
If Jones is looking for consistency in terms of ethos and work ethic, however, then Saracens’s Alex Sanderson is the obvious candidate.
Sanderson and Gustard are from the same mould and, while I don’t think Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall would be too happy about losing someone heralded as his successor, there is a natural continuity there.
Primarily, Sanderson, who began coaching 11 years ago at the age of 27, is defence-minded but he is much more than that. He is brilliant at creating the culture we have seen for so long now at Saracens.
Sanderson and Gustard were the founders of the Wolfpack ethos and the life, soul and energy behind the framework of every member of the club working for each other.
That is why the likes of Gustard and Sanderson are so attractive: they have coaching ability in spades but are also masters of driving standards and demanding excellence and world-class basics.
Sarries are so ferocious and formidable defensively and Gustard has implemented those qualities with England. I also know that he has returned to the club quite a bit since being with England to trade ideas and best practice.
Sanderson would be a natural fit for England and an easily facilitated appointment that would not see huge structural upheaval. For me, his advancement to the England ranks would make the most sense.
In terms of Gustard’s transition to Quins, he is going to bring a new energy to a club that has gone a bit stale. We know he is an exciting and innovative coach and his northern honesty is something Quins are crying out for.
Ollie Phillips is leading a group of inspiring individuals to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro this October. To join him visit https://www.360-expeditions.com/expeditions/ollie-phillips-kilimanjaro/