Martin Gleeson had spent the past two seasons as attack coach at Wasps
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Martin Gleeson has been confirmed as England’s new attack coach and will join Eddie Jones’ set-up from Wasps on Monday.
The former rugby league international, who represented both Great Britain and England in the 13-a-side code as a centre, has only been working full-time in rugby union for two years.
He did, however, feature for Orrell in the eighth tier of English rugby union in 2017-18, alongside former St Helens colleague Sean Long.
Previously a coach at Super League outfit Salford, Gleeson began at Wasps ahead of a 2019-20 campaign in which Lee Blackett’s side plundered 88 tries from 24 Premiership games, only coming up short in the domestic final against Exeter Chiefs.
Although last season was not as kind to the West Midlands club, Wasps still registered 66 tries from 22 Premiership matches. Only Exeter, Bristol Bears and Harlequins managed more.
Gleeson’s move from Wasps to England sees John Mitchell, Jones’ lieutenant since 2018, head in the opposite direction. Mitchell had initially been due to remain with England until the end of the 2021 autumn campaign, but will join Blackett’s backroom team as soon as possible.
John Mitchell took the shock decision to quit as England's defence coach last month
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“We are building a coaching team to win the 2023 Rugby World Cup,” said Jones upon announcing the impending arrival of Gleeson.
“We have five campaigns to go before then, so every appointment from here on in is very important. We’re starting with Martin as attack coach.
“He’s a bright young rugby coach with experience at the highest level in [rugby] league, so he will add significant power to the team.
“He’s done extremely well with Wasps and he will come in and build on the good work that Simon Amor started with us. I look forward to welcoming him to the coaching team.”
Amor, who succeeded popular Australian Scott Wisemantel after Rugby World Cup 2019, left his position as England attack coach in May, when it was also announced that Jason Ryles would not be continuing as a skills coach.
Ed Robinson subsequently joined Jones and Mitchell for the summer Tests against USA and Canada. Now the 28-year-old has joined Wasps, with Gleeson stepping off the merry-go-round at Twickenham.
“As a player, you always want to represent your country at the highest level and it’s no difference for a coach,” Gleeson said.
“This is something I have strived for and coaching England is the pinnacle. I’d like to thank everyone at Wasps for my time there, in particular Lee Blackett who took me under his wing after coming from rugby league – and has supported me in taking this opportunity.
“Now I’m looking forward to working with Eddie, the staff and some of the best players in the world, helping them in their development and achieving their ultimate goals.”
Gleeson is not an experienced appointment – but his ability to coach unstructured play could be just the ticket for Jones
Martin Gleeson joins England at a fascinating juncture, and it must be said that creative ideas will be welcome.
Over the past two Six Nations campaigns since Rugby World Cup 2019, Eddie Jones’ charges have registered an aggregate of 26 tries. France (35), Wales (33) and Ireland (29) have all been more potent during the same period, with Scotland (25) not far behind – and Gregor Townsend’s team scored 18 tries to England’s 12 in the 2021 Six Nations.
In between those tournaments came a kick-heavy Autumn Nations Cup. England ground out a trophy and consolidated, but will not have inspired too many new viewers. Other nations, notably Wales under Wayne Pivac, opted for short-term pain as they made gains in attacking cohesion.
Gleeson is an inexperienced recruit, who may have to be complemented by a gnarled defensive guru when Jones settles on a replacement for John Mitchell. He has only spent two seasons in professional rugby union. His first was 2019-20, when Wasps rallied in spectacular style after the departure of Dai Young and surged to the Premiership final.
Their transition attack was razor-sharp. Scavenging forwards such as Jack Willis forced turnovers, and Wasps capitalised clinically on broken-field situations. A half-back pairing of Dan Robson and Jacob Umaga shone, helping to feed speedy wings such as Zach Kibirige and Josh Bassett.
Individual injuries and collective inconsistency stifled Wasps in 2020-21, although there were bright moments. The promotion of Umaga and even teenage fly-half Charlie Atkinson to senior England squads hinted that the stewardship of Lee Blackett and Gleeson had admirers in high places. Reports of the latter coming into the England fold surfaced as early as April in The Rugby Paper.
An admiration for rugby league has been harboured by Jones since childhood, shaping his five-and-a-half years in charge of England. Sean Long, an ex-teammate and friend of Gleeson, reached the last three of the interview process before Scott Wisemantel became attack coach in 2018. In that respect, this development makes plenty of sense.
Jones is constantly theorising about tactical trends and change could be around the corner, suiting Gleeson’s obvious ability to coach unstructured play. The last Rugby World Cup cycle was characterised by disruptive defence. These next two years, in the run-up to 2023, may see more leeway given to sides that do their best to keep possession and generate quick ruck ball as referees – theoretically – police the offside line more strictly.
During a disjointed win over Italy in February, England deliberately deployed a 1-3-2-2 formation of forwards. Appropriating Japan’s strategy from 2019 was markedly different to anything they had attempted previously under Jones. They did attack with verve in stretches against Wales and France, with less structure.
With 2023 on the horizon, though, awkward questions lie ahead. George Ford is still 28 and Owen Farrell 29, but is it time for Marcus Smith to be granted control of the tiller? Back-up options in the playmaking positions of No 8, scrum-half and inside centre are uncertain and untested. The incoming 50-22 law could well alter the tactical landscape of Test rugby anyway. It may be that England were ahead of the curve in filling their backline with kicking threats such as the left-footed duo of Henry Slade and Elliot Daly.
Lessons from the summer were limited by poor opposition, but the offloading dynamism of wing Joe Cokanasiga and the energy of scrum-half Harry Randall provide something different. As should code-hopping Gleeson, following Simon Amor’s underwhelming spell as attack coach.
Simon Amor left the England set-up in May after an underwhelming spell as attack coach
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Tonga, Australia and South Africa are England’s opponents this autumn. Anything less than two wins and a strong performance against the Springboks will be unsatisfactory. At the same time, though, England supporters will justifiably demand ambition and fluency with ball in hand.
Jones has previously suggested that England will conceal their attacking evolution until closer to the next World Cup. With Gleeson’s arrival, he must begin to reveal his hand.