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Rugby Tonight column: Lawrence Dallaglio backs Warren Gatland to replace Eddie Jones as England head coach - and calls for patience in Exeter's quest to conquer Europe

BTSport.com caught up with Lawrence Dallaglio for this week’s Rugby Tonight column, with special focus given to Saturday’s all-English Champions Cup clash between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester – live on BT Sport.

There is no better candidate to replace Eddie Jones when he steps down as England head coach than Warren Gatland.

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That's the opinion of 2003 World Cup winner and BT Sport pundit Lawrence Dallaglio, who made 85 appearances for England in a 12-year international career with the Red Roses.

Dallaglio's comments come after interim RFU chief executive Nigel Melville admitted he would like to speak to Gatland over the possibility of replacing Jones when the Australian leaves his post.

Jones is under contract with the the RFU until 2021 but, as part of his deal, the Australian will help England establish a succession plan with the aim of appointing a new head coach by the end of the 2019-20 season. 

England's original aim was to bring in a new head coach to work under Jones during a transititional period following the end of the World Cup, but Melville has refused to rule out pursuing alternative options.

Gatland will step down after the World Cup after 12 years as Wales head coach and the New Zealander is yet to reveal his future plans.

Speaking exclusively to BTSport.com ahead of his appearance on Rugby Tonight, Dallaglio insisted England should not dawdle in sounding out potential replacements, suggesting the two-time British and Irish Lions head coach would be an ideal candidate to succeed Jones.

"I couldn't think of a better person to coach England [than Gatland]," said Dallaglio. "They should have spoken to him about eight years when the opportunity was there to speak to him.

"He has a winning CV in club rugby, in international rugby with the Lions and he's always done an outstanding job."

Dallaglio was Gatland's captain at Wasps where the pair lead the club to three Premiership titles and a first ever European Cup triumph.

"I have a natural affinity with Warren because we had some of the best years of our lives together on the rugby field," he said.

"If he's not tempted to go back to New Zealand then why should he not be one of a few candidates they should consider?

"Time and time again he's proven he knows how to build winning teams and play in a way that gets the fans on their feet."

While Dallaglio believes his former mentor would be an excellent choice as future England head coach, he also believes Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter should be one of 'a few candidates' who should be considered for the top job.

Baxter has masterminded Exeter's rise from Championship also-rans to one of the most fearsome sides in English rugby, and Dallaglio reckons the Devonians are not far off winning the Heineken Champions Cup, which returns to BT Sport screens this weekend.

"Exeter need to win in Europe to be called a great side - but it doesn't have to be this season, necessarily," said Dallaglio, who twice Europe's elite competition with Wasps.

In stark contrast to their form in the Gallagher Premiership, where they sit second in the table, the Chiefs are winless and bottom of Pool 2 going into a must-win match against west country rivals Gloucester on Saturday.

But Dallaglio has called for some perspective going into this weekend's crunch clash, insisting Baxter's side are not far away from claiming their first Champions Cup crown.

"They're still very much a work in progress. It shouldn't be underestimated how hard it is to win in Europe, it's hard to translate that league form to the Champions Cup.

"But the fact that they're only two points behind Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership - who are one of the best sides in Europe - suggests they can't be doing a lot wrong!

"There have been a few details in their games where they've got things wrong and it's cost them a result or two, but they're still serious contenders - whether it's this year, next year or the year after."

Exeter have failed to reach the knockout stages of the competition since 2016 when they were dumped out of the Champions Cup by Dallaglio's former side, Wasps.

But Dallaglio insists that, in his experience, there is no quick fix to cracking Europe.

"I started playing European rugby in the late nineties and I didn't win my first European trophy until 2004, so it takes time," he said.

"I wouldn't say they're newbies, but they haven't been at the top level that long. We have to give them some time to evolve.

"They just have to keep building, keep being competitive in the league, keep learning about what it takes to win in Europe - and once you get that first win, you tend to find a knack of winning on a regular basis.

"When you look at the dynasties that have been created - both domestically and in Europe - like Leicester, Wasps, Leinster, Toulon and Toulouse, what you don't tend to see is teams winning the trophy one year and then never again. Once you win it you start to see repetitive success, because they learn how to win.

"Exeter are very close to reaching that stage. They've won a couple of trophies and they're not far away from doing it more regularly."

The BT Sport cameras will be at Sandy Park this Saturday, with coverage starting on BT Sport 2 HD 12.30pm.

The match is also available to live stream via the BT Sport app or BTSport.com and if you’re not yet a subscriber, fear not – we can get you set up in just 15 minutes right here!

Watch Exeter v Gloucester live on BT Sport 2 from 12.30pm on Saturday - along with nine other Heineken Champions Cup games across the weekend

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