Humble Middleton prepares for one last Red Roses game

Middleton has won 76 of his games in charge of England, including a world record of 30 in a row
Middleton has won 76 of his games in charge of England, including a world record of 30 in a row

Humility radiates from Simon Middleton, the man who made the Red Roses record-breaking world-beaters, writes Sportsbeat's Milly McEvoy.

Even as he prepares for his final game as England head coach, the 57-year-old is putting the focus on the game, not the occasion, let alone his own swansong.

But what an occasion it will be - a world-record crowd is expected at Twickenham as the Red Roses take on France in a Grand Slam decider.

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That kind of crowd could not have been conceived when Middleton took over the reins in 2015, even with England then the reigning world champions.

There is no doubt that Middleton has helped guide women's rugby to where it is today.

"From when I entered the game to leaving, to see crowds like that are so encouraging," Middleton said.

"You do feel proud to be part of it because that's the growth, isn't it?

"You see more players playing, and you see thousands of young girls and parents and young lads wanting to come along and watch the Red Roses play.

"And if we get 55,000 in, it's a good place to leave the game."

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Middleton has won five Women's Six Nations titles, four of them Grand Slams, and will hope to leave the side with a sixth Championship and fifth in a row.

His win record is remarkable, claiming 76 victories from 85 Tests with 30 of those wins coming consecutively, a world record.

You will also find a World Cup among Middleton's trophy cabinet from his time with the Red Roses, as an assistant coach to Gary Street who he would later replace in the top job.

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England reached two more World Cup finals under his leadership, losing to New Zealand both times, the latter in November last year in heartbreaking fashion.

After that game, a crestfallen Middleton admitted he would never get over the defeat and was unsure whether he would stay on as coach.

But as the Knottingley native has moved through this TikTok Women's Six Nations, he knows he made the right decision to end with one final Championship.

Six Nations Rugby, the official organising body responsible for the TikTok Women's Six Nations, broke all fan engagement records in 2022 and highlighted its commitment to giving the women's game the best possible platform to grow.

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The 2023 edition of the Championship stands to build on this progress, with even bigger crowds expected, more international broadcasters covering all the action and unprecedented social and digital promotion for the heroes of the women's game.

He added: "I love the Six Nations, I love coaching the team, so when I was asked if I would stay to do that, I didn't have to think twice about it.

"We felt it was the right thing to make sure that the right processes could be put in place to get the right person going forward.

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"From my point of view, it was a no-brainer to do that. It sets a great stage up at the end, and it is just a great stage full stop.

"I really enjoyed this Six Nations. Coming in, I think probably knowing that it was going to be my last one, I've really, really enjoyed it.

"And this week has been no different, but the focus has been massively on preparing the side because it's such a huge game.

"You do not want to go out on anything less than a victory, so that's what we'll be focusing on, and we'll give it our best shot."

Middleton is not the only person departing on Saturday, with backs coach Scott Bemand also leaving his position, while captain Sarah Hunter retired after Round 1.

The next era of the Red Roses will feel quite different but they have been set up perfectly by Middleton, even if he insists his success was mostly down to the players and staff around him.

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"I have a lot of good players to work with," the former dual code winger said. "You talk about being a great coach, I wouldn't be a great coach if I hadn't coached great players.

"It is for others to decide if I fit that category, but I have definitely coached great players, I've got great staff around me and we've had great support from the RFU.

"No one victory comes down to any one player or any member of staff. We've built this Red Rose family so that we know anyone could come out of it at any one time, and it won't impact it and that's certainly the case for me and Scotty.

"Hopefully that is part of the legacy that we leave behind.

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"It's just been amazing and a real privilege to be part of it. You just desperately want to make sure we finish it in the right way on Saturday."

For all the latest TikTok Women's Six Nations news, information, and details on how to watch the Championship, visit: https://womens.sixnationsrugby.com/