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House of Rugby

15th May 2019

Saracens maestro Mark McCall tipped to succeed Eddie Jones

Patrick McCarry

“In my experience, he’s the most understated but successful Premiership coach.”

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall is one of the best rugby tacticians and organisers in Europe but has never seriously been in the Ireland conversation.

That path may never be trod, but McCall is the outstanding candidate to take over from England head coach Eddie Jones. There had been a cohort seeking Dean Ryan to take up that role but he is now off to Guinness PRO14 side Dragons, in Wales.

Saracens are often seen as a collective; a machine. McCall is perceived as the many who keeps it well oiled. He does so much more than that, as Saracens players and coaches were only too keen to tell us after they conquered Leinster at the weekend.

Mark McCall celebrates with his children after Saracens’ victory during the Champions Cup Final. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Under McCall, as first team coach then director of rugby, Sarries have won four Premiership titles and three European Cups. Much like Saracens’ breakdown menace Maro Itoje, McCall’s hands are everywhere.

On the latest episode of House of Rugby, host Alex Payne was joined by James Haskell and Mike Tindall to discuss that Sarries victory and McCall as a potential England boss.

His name was mentioned as a candidate to replace Declan Kidney, near the end of his tenure, but then-Leinster coach Joe Schmidt was the resounding choice for fans, pundits and the bulk of the Ireland squad.

Schmidt is stepping back from coaching after the World Cup but there was no open round of interviews. The job is going internally, to Andy Farrell. McCall was never in the frame.

If Ireland are not gunning for him, England should be.

McCall pictured as Ulster coach with Paddy Wallace and Isaac Boss, in 2007.

The day after Ulster qualified for the Guinness PRO14 semi final, Rory Best was in Dublin for the league’s awards ceremony. Looking back on his one and only league triumph, in 2005/06, it was noted that Mark McCall was the head coach.

Asked how it was that a home-grown, league-winning coach was allowed to leave the province just 18 months later, Best commented:

“We probably underestimated how well we had done to win the league. And when a few things went wrong the next year it all seemed to fall apart quite quickly. Ask a lot of the players who played under Mark, they were under no illusions how great a coach he was.”

McCall won the European Cup with Ulster, as a player, in 1999 and led them to that league title seven years later. That should have given him a level of job safety but within 18 months of David Humphreys raising that league trophy, McCall was resigning.

Trimble was part of that league winning team and he mused on why Ireland have never come calling for the Co. Down native.

ANDREW: I mean, his family are probably… I don’t know. I never kept in touch with him. But I would imagine that his family are pretty settled. He’s onto a good thing. He’s probably just going to continue to win Premierships and European Cups. What’s not to like about that lifestyle?!

BARRY: Did he leave on a bad terms with Ulster, slightly? Or the IRFU, probably.

ANDREW: Yeah, slightly I don’t think he wanted to leave (Ulster). I don’t know. I just remember the CEO came into the office, or into the meeting, and said ‘Mark’s handed in his resignation, effective immediately’. And he… Mike Reid it was, at the time, said, ‘In my opinion, we’ve lost a good man’. And never a truer word spoken.”

McCall and former Ulster forward Jeremy Davidson went to Castres, after McCall left the province, and the pair steered the French side into the following season’s Heineken Cup. Saracens came calling, after that, and he has yet to look back.

Payne believes McCall must be top of the list for the next England coach, especially with Exeter’s Rob Baxter saying he does not want the job. Haskell commented:

“In my experience, he’s the most understated but successful Premiership coach.

“When you go to these Premiership launch days, the likes of Steve Diamond, Dai Young and Dean Richards get a lot of the attention. Then Mark McCall just gets on with it… he’s a really lovely, quiet kind of guy that seems to be absolutely killing it, year after year, but still isn’t what I’d see as a massive Premiership manager (in terms of stature).”

If McCall does go the England route, the panel agreed that Alex Sanderson, the Saracenes coach, would be most likely to succeed the Northern Irishman.

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Episode 31 sees Alex Payne joined by Mike Tindall and James Haskell to discuss Saracens’ European Cup win, rugby socials, Will Skelton’s transformation and pissing off Ronaldinho in Las Vegas.