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England bring back coach with inside knowledge of All Blacks for summer tour

Andrew Strawbridge, Consultant Coach of England, looks on during a training session at Camiral Golf & Wellness on January 25, 2024 in Girona, Spain
Coach Andrew Strawbridge is renowned for two areas – the contact area and 'creative passing' - Getty Images/David Ramos

Andrew Strawbridge will rejoin the England coaching team on a permanent basis ahead of this summer’s Test matches against Japan and New Zealand.

Strawbridge will work across all areas with a specific remit to hone the attacking contact area and will continue to aid Steve Borthwick’s young coaches with their personal development.

The 59-year-old Kiwi, who was part of the All Blacks set-up as recently as the 2023 World Cup, spent the first four weeks of this year’s Six Nations campaign with England. He attended the pre-tournament camp in Girona and left after the fallow week prior to a 30-21 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield.

“My brief stint with England at the front end of the Six Nations was a nourishing experience and I was impressed with the desire of the group to grow and compete,” Strawbridge said.

“I am immensely proud to be involved in the England coaching group and look forward to playing a part in helping the team achieve its goals.

“I really appreciate the opportunity Steve has afforded me to contribute.”

Prior to victories over Italy and Wales, which began the Six Nations, Dave Rennie, a former colleague of Strawbridge with New Zealand Under-20 and the Chiefs, hailed a “visionary decision” from Borthwick to include the Kiwi.

Andrew Strawbridge, the England consultant coach passes the ball during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on February 05, 2024 in Bagshot, England
Strawbridge was involved with England during the early part of the Six Nations - Getty Images/David Rogers

“Andrew made a huge impression during the time he spent with us at this year’s Six Nations,” added Borthwick.

“From the moment he walked into the environment, I was hugely impressed with his attention to detail, the clarity of his coaching philosophy and the different perspectives he has on the game.

“His extensive coaching experience in Super Rugby and the international arena, as well as his expertise in player development, complements our existing coaching group well.

“I’m excited that he’ll back with us as we prepare for the summer tour to Japan and New Zealand.”

England face Japan, in what will be the first game of Eddie Jones’ second stint as head coach of the Brave Blossoms, in Tokyo on June 22 before a two-Test series against the All Blacks comprising matches in Dunedin on July 6 and Auckland on July 13.

England’s irritant in the oyster can help development

“An irritant in the oyster” was how Dave Rennie complimented Andrew Strawbridge earlier this year. That image, Rennie suggested, encapsulated his old mate’s rare attention to detail, allied to tactful honesty and an engaging manner.

“He’ll challenge,” Rennie explained. “He’ll often see things that others don’t see and force you to look deeper at those things. I really enjoyed working with him because he’d voice an opinion which, in my view, made us better.

“He generally cares, and has made a difference to every side that he’s been with. It’s a visionary decision from England to bring him in.”

Eddie Jones’ tenure was hardly an emblem of continuity when it came to the backroom team. There was a steady churn of staff, especially from 2020 onwards, which cannot have been helpful for the players.

30 June 2022; Skills coach Andrew Strawbridge, left, and asistant coach Joe Schmidt during New Zealand rugby squad training at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand
Andrew Strawbridge has been involved with the All Blacks in the past - Getty Images/Brendan Moran

Strawbridge’s return should at once provide a different perspective yet also help England to build upon what they achieved during the Six Nations. The 59-year-old is renowned for two areas – the contact area and ‘creative passing’ or, as Rennie put it, finding a team-mate with an overhead or underhand release “when an orthodox pass won’t work”.

It is mildly ironic, then, that England’s most convincing attacking performances arrived against Ireland and France, after Strawbridge had left the camp. They were impressively clinical in both games and Richard Wigglesworth deserves huge credit. But Strawbridge would have not been brought back if Steve Borthwick did not think the wily Kiwi would add value.

The desire to lean on experience to develop a young group of coaches is an admirably self-aware one, too. Borthwick is just 44 himself, while Wigglesworth is 40, Felix Jones is just 36, Tom Harrison is only 32. All of them will benefit from more time with Strawbridge, who became immensely popular, by all accounts. And, of course, England are going to need to be slick with the ball, generating quick rucks and finding space efficiently, if they are to land a famous victory in New Zealand in either of those two encounters... not that Borthwick will look beyond a reunion with Jones and Japan.

Finally, there is the question of insider knowledge. In all honesty, most coaches share information these days and there is so much crossover when one factors in the club game. Added to that, New Zealand have embarked on a new regime under Scott Robertson, with Ian Foster gone and Joe Schmidt now overseeing the Wallabies.

That said, Strawbridge will be able to relay nuggets on the All Blacks’ psyche as well as nuances about how individual players operate. Details, details, details. Test matches hinge upon them.

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