Head-coaches for upcoming Rugby Europe men’s championship 2023

Head-coaches for upcoming Rugby Europe men's championship 2023

The Rugby Europe men’s championship is days away from the first kick-off, in a fully new revamped competition that, for the first time ever, will have eight teams fighting for the chance to be the Kings of Europe – not counting the Six Nations, of course.

Until last season, the Rugby Europe Championship was comprised of six teams battling out in a round-robin format, that went from February to March, deciding the new champion and who would face relegation.

Meet the head coaches for upcoming Rugby Europe men’s championship

Starting this international season, everything changes, as the competition goes from six to eight nations, divided into two pools of four, with Georgia, Spain, Netherlands, and Germany in pool A, while Romania, Portugal, Belgium, and Poland are in pool B. So, how will we crown a champion for the Rugby Europe men’s championship?

Each group will have three rounds, and the top two sides qualify for a knockout phase, building competition momentum in two semi-finals and, finally, a Championship match – there will also be a bronze final. As for the bottom two of each conference, those teams will also qualify for an elimination round, in order to have a final official standing that will have special importance when we reach the Rugby World Cup (RWC) qualifying cycle – two years before the tournament.

The 2023 Rugby Europe men’s championship will start on February 4 and will go until March (you can watch it online on Rugby Europe TV), filling five weekends of thrilling international games, that will help Georgia, Romania, and Portugal prepare for the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

And with that last line, we go now to the main point of this Last Word on Rugby feature: profiling the head coaches of each nation. Let’s start with what was a surprising turn of events, as Andy Robinson resigned as Romanian’s head coach, eight months before the RWC.

Romania: Eugen Apjok, it’s now his time

Former England coach Andy Robinson put an end to his time with the Romanian Rugby Union, after a less than satisfactory Autumn Internationals (a win against Chile, and losses against Uruguay and Samoa). While World Cup qualification (after Spain’s ejection from the competition), the Oaks had elevation meant they would not have to participate in the November Qualification Tournament held in Dubai. Overall, a couple of good displays against Argentina, Italy, and Tonga in the last couple of seasons were a few highlights for Romania fans.

No explanation was given to the press [at the time], and it is still unclear for the reason behind the change in head coaches was the fact that Romania had only won four games out of 10 in 2022. For the 2023 campaign, former Romanian fly-half and international, Eugen Apjok was selected as the new head coach, and much of the staff that came with Robinson will stay, like Scotsman Steve Scott.

“My appointment as coach of the national team is an honor, and at the same time, a great challenge and responsibility. I accepted the proposal with the feeling that I can carry on the work of my predecessor whom I want to thank in this way for all that he has done for the national team, so that in the time remaining until the World Cup we can build around a common vision that to reflect as faithfully as possible the culture and spirit of Romanian rugby“, said Eugen Apjok, Romania’s new head coach [via Romania Rugby webpage].

Georgia: Levan Maisashvili, the now and the future

Going back to the current Rugby Europe champions, Georgia hasn’t undergone any staff changes as Levan Maisashvili has been doing an excellent job, guiding the Lelos side to famous wins against Wales in Cardiff or Italy in Tbilisi, and is seen as the right leader to guide them to a new level. Since he took the job in 2020, Georgia only lost four games in nineteen games (including REC, Mid-year, and Autumn internationals) and is set to display the same dominance in years before.

Portugal: Patrice Lagisquet, and a promising “tomorrow”

Portugal is next on this list, as Patrice Lagisquet remained with the Lobos following a successful campaign towards the Rugby World Cup, after being granted a final shot last November, which the Portuguese rocked with a trio of wins.

Since his appointment in 2019, the former France assistant was able to give a strong push and launch Portugal on the path of earning some big victories (Romania and Spain in 2021), building a steady squad of fresh newcomers and experienced veterans of the game. Lagisquet is helped by Luís Pissarra, João Mirra, and Herve Duquerty.

Spain: Santiago Santos, and a “lingering doubt”

Portugal’s neighbors, Spain, are in the middle of a transition, as a new board was voted in last summer, with their sight and minds set on restructuring and guiding the union and rugby as a whole back on track. Santiago Santos remains, for now, as the Los Leones head coach and it will be his 10th season in the job, but there’s the possibility of a managerial change in the upcoming months.

The Spanish men’s senior squad was very close to reaching the Rugby World Cup with Santos on board, but due to fielding ineligible players, they lost the chance to be in the 2019 and 2023 editions, which could’ve been pivotal to bring Los Leones to a higher level.

Netherlands and Belgium: Lyn Jones and Mike Ford take the reins

Netherlands will go to 2023 with Lyn Jones as the boss, as the former Welsh international has taken the reins and has already dreamed of “doing a Chile” in the near future. The Dutch national team has a couple of excellent youth generations coming through the ranks, and Lyn Jones is expected to build a solid squad for years to come, even if they are expected to finish 3rd in their Pool A on this year’s Rugby Europe Championship.

Mike Ford, who previously coached Ireland and England as a defence coach, and Germany, was selected as Belgium’s new head coach and will work alongside Frédéric Cocqu (Technical-Director) and Mouritz Botha (lineout coach) for the next four seasons.

It is going to be interesting to see what Ford can do, as Belgium earned a hard-fought promotion after some years in the Trophy division, and need to muster something special to reach new heights.

Poland and Germany: Chris Hitt and Mark Kuhlamm lead the way

As for Poland, Welsh coach Chris Hitt has been in office since 2021 (assisted by Morgan Stoddart), and this will be their first time in the Championship, a new stage to showcase their growth. Packed with new prospects and talented veterans, the Polish side is a team to keep an eye on, and Hitt’s ambition can be key to pushing them forward.

Germany, who was also promoted alongside Belgium and Poland to the Championship, kept faith in their head coach, Mark Kuhlmann, and will jump to 2023 with the same setup. The Schwarze Adler has lived through a gruelling last 4 years, and coming back to Rugby Europe’s main stage is the best way to rebuild steadily. In 2022, Germany won three of their five matches in the RE Trophy but finished as the team with the most points scored, which is a good indicator of what to expect.

Listed above are the eight strong men who will have the obligation to guide their squads to glory or, at least, help them develop, looking forward not only to 2023 (for Georgia, Romania, and Portugal) but to the next World Cup cycle of four years.

2023 Rugby Europe men’s championship kicks off on February 4


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