Mapletoft earns England call for academy post

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The Independent Online

Rob Andrew has bigger fish to fry, but the Moby Dick business can wait another few days. Yesterday, the man with hiring and firing rights over English representative rugby's entire professional wing, appointed two relative minnows to the Twickenham staff. Mark Mapletoft, who won a single red-rose cap in Argentina the best part of a decade ago, has left the Saracens back-room staff to take up a role with the national academy, while Ben Ryan has taken over from Mike Friday as the seven-a-side coach.

Both men are in their mid-30s and both have a touch of je ne sais quoi about them. Mapletoft, who will have special responsibility for the outside-half and centre positions, was something of a maverick in his day, putting in a long spell at Gloucester before bouncing his way around the London scene with Saracens, Harlequins and London Irish. Ryan made two Varsity Match appearances as Cambridge University's scrum-half and was sufficiently precocious to make a senior debut for Richmond at 17.

While Mapletoft has severed his links with Premiership rugby, Ryan will continue to coach second-division Newbury, for whom he played a National League One match at Leeds as recently as 11 days ago. He will also maintain his connection with the England Counties XV, who have amateur fixtures against Ireland and France early next year.

"This is a fantastic opportunity, especially working in such a specialist area," Mapletoft said. "There are a lot of excellent players in the academy system - the likes of Danny Cipriani, Toby Flood, Ryan Lamb, as well as some younger players who'll come through in the next two or three years."

For his part, Ryan said: "Mike Friday has left me with a well-oiled machine. Although the role is a big challenge, I don't intend doing anything in half measures. My goal is to put England at the top of the tree in the global seven-a-side game."

Next week, Andrew will go right to the bone of his coaching restructure when he lays an eagerly-awaited set of proposals before a meeting of the Rugby Football Union's management board at Twickenham. Having presided over the demise of Andy Robinson as head coach, he must decide whether to promote from within the existing staff - Brian Ashton, the experienced attack strategist, would be the obvious choice - or recruit either a coach or a manager from outside. Either way, the Six Nations Championship is too close for comfort in terms of resurrecting an England side left for dead during the autumn international series.

By contrast, Bristol are alive and kicking. Having secured one obvious candidate for the England coaching job, Richard Hill, on a long-term contract - according to a piece of paper held under lock and key in the Memorial Ground safe, Hill is not going anywhere until 2010 - the management yesterday nailed down the services of another batch of front-line players. The captain, Matt Salter, signed for another two years, as did his fellow flanker Joe El Abd and the wing Lee Robinson. They join the likes of Mark Regan, the form hooker in England, in committing themselves to the club for the foreseeable future.

"I want to be around when we land that first piece of silverware," said Salter. "This club has come on leaps and bounds in the past few seasons, and looks after its players so well. With the progress we've made and the plans we have in place for the next few years, I wouldn't want to play anywhere else. We're on the verge of big things."

* Reports last night claimed that Nick Mallett is the man Twickenham want to secure England's future. Rob Andrew, the RFU's elite director of rugby, will recommend Mallett to the RFU's management board next week, according to the reports.

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