New boy Barritt relishing England revival
While one England national team might have been in crisis on Thursday, another was continuing to show clear signs of recovery.
The parallels between the nation's football and rugby sides - hugely disappointing World Cups, a subsequent influx of new blood, a struggle to reconnect with disenchanted supporters - were already strong. That both now have interim coaches called Stuart, and that rugby's Lancaster revealed that football's Pearce had phoned him last week to wish him luck, only seemed to underline the bond.
But while the atmosphere at Wembley was one of crisis and chaos, at the England rugby team's camp in Surrey there was a discernible sense of order and optimism in the bitter winter air.
You'd expect a former PE teacher like Lancaster to be strong on organisation and discipline. Spending some time in the company of his new centre Brad Barritt, you get the impression that he's also reawakening his squad's enthusiasm and enjoyment.
"It was an incredible experience, the proudest moment of my career," says Barritt of last weekend's 13-6 victory over Scotland. "Over the past three weeks the experience has been amazing."
Barritt led the way for England with 13 tackles against Scotland. Photo: AP
There can be a nagging fear, when listening to a player talking in such relentlessly upbeat tones, that you are being gently mugged by a carefully designed PR strategy.
In Barritt's case that's probably both uncharitable and incorrect. The man who tackled himself into exhaustion at Murrayfield - with 13 bone-jarring hits, he and Tom Palmer were England's most industrious defenders - genuinely seems to be relishing each smash and every second.
"You have to be positive. Ultimately, rugby is a passion of mine," he says, bright-eyed and squashed of nose. "Playing the game is immensely enjoyable, and it's obviously something I've wanted to do since I was a young kid.
"While you're here you've really got to make it count. And the best way to enjoy it is to make sure you're successful at it too."
Of the three debutants who started against Scotland, it was Barritt who perhaps impressed the most. England did very little going forward. Much of the good work they did on the back foot centred around the Durban-born Saracen.
"At the beginning it was about managing the emotion," he says. "The anthem is a proud moment but you have to snap straight back into the game.
"You're aided by the adrenaline, but you don't want it to overshadow the functioning in your brain. I remember looking up at the clock and 33 minutes had gone. It went by in a flash.
"The intensity and physicality of it - it definitely felt like a step up. The collisions were that much harder, there's more of an edge to the game."
Barritt's route to the red rose is an unusual one. His parents are Zimbabweans who moved to South Africa the year before he was born, although he has had a British passport since birth through his English grandparents. His grandfather even played for English Universities.
His first experience of the international game came with Emerging Springboks as part of the side that won the IRB Nations Cup in Bucharest in 2007. But after joining Sarries a year later he was fast-tracked through England's second-string Saxons by Lancaster, and then summoned to the senior side's tour of Australasia as cover for Dominic Waldouck.
"If the game isn't going the team's way in an attacking sense, I like to see it as a chance to make my mark defensively," he says with a grin. "I do enjoy the physical challenge. If a game's going to go like that I'm willing to stand up and really make it count.
"Ideally as a player you want to be attacking, but if it goes into that defensive shift it's about getting hungry to work. And ideally, when you come out of a tackle, you want the guy carrying the ball to be in more pain than you."
For those of us who will never know how it feels to have to bring a 16-stone rugby professional to a juddering halt, time after shoulder-shuddering time, what have his greatest hits told him?
"If you get the technique right, you're going to inflict more pain than you're going to feel. It's about getting your body nice and square, getting your body in line and then, when you see the chance, explode onto it."
Does stopping a runaway flanker give him a buzz? "It does. You know when you've made a big hit when the guys are tapping you on the back and really raising their energy when it happens. It's a great way to stamp your authority on a game.
Lancaster's men had to train in the snow as winter gripped England this week. Photo: Getty
"If the tackle isn't so good, or if you come out of it worse, it makes you want to get up and make the next one count.
"Everyone will miss a tackle here and there, so it's the strength of the defensive unit that really counts, having guys covering for each other inside and out and really defending as a pack. That's the mark of a really good defensive unit - having a guy round the corner willing to put in the hit if someone else slips up."
Lancaster has plumped for an unchanged team for this Saturday's clash with Italy in Rome. While Barritt looked shattered when being replaced late on in Edinburgh, it's not his body that has had required the most recovery time to be ready again this week.
"I've done a lot of that sort of tackling through my life so I'm pretty well conditioned to it. For me it's more the emotion. You've got your levels that high that - it's not a comedown, but you need to re-evaluate things.
"Sometimes as a player you've got the game buzzing through your head three or four times. I do struggle to sleep after a game at times. With experience, over the years, you learn how to block it off a little. But usually for me it's two days after the match that everything comes out."
These are very early days for Lancaster's new regime. By the coach's own admission, last weekend left a lot of room for improvement. In Rome his inexperienced side will come up against an Italian outfit with over 700 caps between them, with a sell-out crowd of 72,000 expected for the first ever Six Nations match at the Stadio Olimpico.
It will be Barritt's first trip to the city. He admits he is keen to see the Coliseum, but there are other obvious priorities.
"It's all about the team's performance. Stuart has brought an attacking framework that allows us to express ourselves, and he's got a very good bond with Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell. The dynamic there is really good, and the players have bought into that culture."
Will England supporters see the more attacking side of his game this weekend?
"You rely on your team-mates to first of all dominate the set-piece and then guys maintaining the ball through contact. There are lot of things that need to happen throughout the team to get things moving in an attacking sense.
"As a player you just have to perform your role - if your team-mates are getting good clean ball and making yards then it turns into a good attacking display.
"For us it's all about improving, week in, week out."