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Lancaster leads England renaissance

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Tom Fordyce | 22:52 UK time, Saturday, 17 March 2012

England forwards coach Graham Rowntree is not normally an emotional man, nor one given to effusive praise.

So his comments about the team and its interim coach Stuart Lancaster after the 30-9 demolition of Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday were as telling as they were unusual.

"We've been born again as a new team under Stuart," he said. "We've come such a long way. We've made everyone proud of us again, and there's still loads more to come."

If that sounds a little giddy for a side finishing a place lower than a year ago, it is worth reminding oneself of the unholy mess that England were in only two months ago - unsuccessful on the pitch, divided off it, unloved by supporters disenchanted with both perceived attitudes and stone-cold results.

Even die-hards had written this Six Nations off as a time to experiment and rebuild for another distant day.

Lancaster has revitalised England's squad since taking charge. Photo - Getty

Four wins from five later, with three games won away from home for the first time in history, young players not just blooded but flourishing. With rousing victories taken against all recent odds in Paris and over Ireland, the jilted are starting to swoon once again. It is quite some renaissance.

Saturday's thumping was so emphatic by the end that it was easy to lose sight of the context. The men in green had won seven of their last eight meetings with England in this oldest of competitions, including three of the last four at Twickenham.

Even with storied stalwarts Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll missing they featured 616 caps in their starting XV, almost three times as many as England.

In a scrappy first half they had trailed by only three points yet had a superior kicking game and seemed to be playing the slippery, gloomy conditions rather more effectively.

All that changed in the last 40 minutes as the home pack dismantled the visitors' scrum in a way that hasn't happened since Andrew Sheridan smashed Australia to small green and gold pieces in the autumn of 2005.

Mike Ross, suffering from what coach Declan Kidney referred to, with kind understatement, as a "crick in the neck" was already struggling, but the hammering absorbed by his replacement Tom Court bordered on humiliation.

Court began his sporting career as a shot putter. He ended this game shot to pieces.

England won 11 scrums to Ireland's three, sticking on 21 second-half points as Ireland conceded 12 penalties - almost all of them from a set-piece going backwards and upwards and sidewards, anywhere but forward - one penalty try, and another seven points to a quick tap from another inevitable scrum capitulation.

Kidney's men had actually impressed at the breakdown, as we have come to expect. But elsewhere the wheels were coming off: 11 tackles missed, a debilitating 17 errors shipped as experienced and talented hands developed the grip of shovels shifting waste.

We should hope St Patrick was looking elsewhere on his big day.

England, too keen to run from too deep in the first half, took a rollicking from Rowntree at the interval and came out with a game-plan that made sense. Kick for territory, play for the set-piece, snatch at every inch of impetus and turn it into something better.

If Lee Dickson had a chastening afternoon behind the scrum, the man outside him, Owen Farrell, was near faultless, eight men in front of him outstanding.

Ben Morgan, in only his third international start, was a worthy man of the match. Tom Croft continued where he had left off at the Stade de France. The front row of Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley and Alex Corbisiero - average age: 24 - mangled their opposite numbers and celebrated with a grizzled bear-hug when the penalty try became their reward.

It was no sort of way for Ireland's skipper, the valiant Rory Best, to celebrate passing Keith Wood as his country's most capped hooker, and no sort of ending to a season that saw his side score more tries than in their Grand Slam year of 2009 but finish awash in what ifs and so nearlys rather than championship medals.

The last-gasp loss to Wales had been cruel, the draw in Paris, having held a double-digit lead at half-time, painful. But this was as chastening a display as Kidney's regime has witnessed.

England's forward momentum comes with no guarantees. With three summer Tests in South Africa and games against the All Blacks and Wallabies to follow in autumn, sterner tests and possibly tougher times may follow.

Whatever transpires, Lancaster should be at the helm to confront it.

Rumours late on Saturday from South Africa had Nick Mallett, the other man in the frame for the permanent England job, apparently all but conceding his candidacy.

But it is not just Lancaster's immediate future the RFU must decide. His assistant Andy Farrell is due to return to Saracens on Monday morning, his courtesy loan period over.

There have been suggestions that the RFU, even if they take Mallett at his supposed word, might seek to bring in some more international experience to the staff in the shape of former New Zealand assistant coach (and an avowed second in command) Wayne Smith. The caretaker, if given the job, would dearly love to keep the current triumvirate together.

"I just want to express my pride in the performance," said a smiling, almost dazed, Lancaster afterwards.

"We talked a lot about believing in in each other and self-belief, but when you think that this squad first came together eight weeks ago, at a League Two club in Leeds...

"I'm just delighted for the players, for the management and for the supporters. It was a great way to finish. It's probably exceeded most people's expectations but we've always believed in this group of players."

Does he feel he's done enough to secure the promotion full-time?

"I've known all along the timelines and the process. I understand what people need to do. I'll just enjoy the moment.

"Any team has to win in difficult conditions but also learn and improve. The most pleasing thing for us as a coaching team is that we can see that happening and see what we have worked on in training coming through in matches. It's been a great journey."


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  • Comment number 1.

    Whilst I don't think England are a finished product and, full credit to Wales on a hard fought and deserved grand slam, I cannot hide my pride for Stewart Lancaster and what England have achieved. Lancaster seems an enourmously geniune character and his belief in the side and the values for playing for each other have shown through in each performance.

    How can the RFU not give him the job?

  • Comment number 2.

    After Leeds there was hope. At the beginning of the tournement 4 out of 5 was a very long shot, maybe daydreaming. They've had there share of luck but luck is earned. JOB DONE. JOB EARNED. Give Mr Lancaster and his team the JOB.

  • Comment number 3.

    Lancaster has obviously done a great job in a short amount of time, but I think a lot of credit in particular has to go to Farrell Snr. Englands defence has been very good this 6nations, and in international rugby you need to start with the foundation of a good defence before anything else. So if whatever they decide regarding Lancaster, I hope they can negotiate something with Saracens, who seem quite bullish about getting Andy back to work on Monday.

  • Comment number 4.

    2 wins and 3 defeats with greatly improved performances and hope for the future would have been acceptable a couple of months ago, albeit a bitter pill to swollow it was medicine I and many England supporters were prepared to take if this side could produce real hope for the future. On and off the field Lancaster has shown what he can do, I was frustrated with the RFU when they appointed him seeing it as a wasted opportunity for the new coach but I was wrong; Stuart Lancaster is the opportunity and not some foreign mercenary waiting in the wings. Well done to Wales, a hard earned slam, Ireland and France look rudderless ... And England have direction, belief and a crop of the youngest most inexperienced players in this championship that heralds much hope: no messing now please RFU, appoint Mr. Lancaster with all haste please and let the journey continue ..

  • Comment number 5.

    I have not seen a scrum destroyed like that in international rugby since Sheridan did a number on Australia years ago.

    What it proves to me is just how good Mike Ross must be. With him Ireland have creaked but survived every other team, without him England destroyed Ireland. And this is a very young English front row. Alex Corb is clearly the loose head prop of the tournament - visibly improving every time. Only tight head to get better of him was Adam Jones (probably the best tight head in world) and he only managed it by consistent illegal binding.

    But lets not get carried away. England may have beaten 4 teams and lost very narrowly to Wales but Scotland were the better team on the day against England, France came within a few feet of snatching victory.

    There is a lot of work to do.

  • Comment number 6.

    HOW CAN HE NOT GET THE JOB!?!?! Any Englishman would have taken 4 out of 5 wins, especially the only loss being an opportunistic try to the grand slam champions! Was an amazing tournament from England, bring on the autumn internationals.

  • Comment number 7.

    Tom, I've loved your series of 6 nations blogs, but have to query a couple of points here.

    The most recent demolition, which was more spectacular than Autumn 2005, was in Australia in summer 2010, when we obliterated the Aussie scrum in the first test. They were running backwards. Penalty tries and yellow cards. Although if you mean the last demolition at Twickenham, yes, 2005.

    Tom Court. He was eviscerated by Corbisiero today, but I'm not sure we can criticise too much. It's a thankless task at the best of times joining a scrum in retreat, but he is a loose-head, forced to play tight-head. These positions need vastly different skill-sets. One is the "destroyer", the other is the "anchor". The dearth of young tight-heads in Ireland is positively frightening.

    As for Owen Farrell being near faultless... I think we will see a similar pattern that we saw with Wilkinson, but sped up, for Farrell. He kicks his goals superbly, and defends with total disregard for his personal health, which moistens English eyes, thinking back to a young Wilkinson in the early 2000s. However, his passing game has been limited, he lacks pace, and his kicking from hand is pretty hit and miss. It's easy to jump on the Farrell bandwagon, but I think he's a very good young player. Not great, very good. He is young enough to improve his attacking game, and decision making, and has had a very impressive start to his international career.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'd say I'm two thirds Welsh, one third English (born in Wales, Welsh father, English mother). I've always supported England in football (apart from when they were playing Wales). I used to support anyone-other-than-England in rugby. This was partially due to the fact that rugby is the national sport in Wales (we have more of a chance!), but also that there used to be this 'arrogance' with English rugby. I believe this arrogance to be solely attributed to the World cup results of 2003 and 2007. I believe that these results may have hindered the progress of English rugby since then. It may be due to the 2011 WC but I could see from the start of this Six nations that this English arrogance wasn't there any more. During the Six Nations win over Italy, I said to my Welsh mates that I'd be willing to support England if they carried on doing the things they are doing. Hope they go forward from this and do something fantastic.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great result and performance. I spoke to a few Irish lads last night during paddy day celebrations who thought that England might just shade it but this was a nice surprise.
    SL has to get the job surely.
    Give him anything he needs and let him get on with it. This is a very promising team.
    On a different note, I bumped into James Haskell and his team mates last night following their game here in Wellington - He came across as a very straight forward guy - great to see him taking the time to speak with Rugby fans - could be a great addition to this team following his sabatical.

  • Comment number 10.

    Congrats to Wales and it was a bummer not to defend our title but for a team in transition this was very impressive from England. These are clearly his guys, he has a team ethic set up similar to Rob Baxter at the Chiefs and I see no reason for him not to get the job.

  • Comment number 11.

    I was worried to see the terribly measured applause of Ian Ritchie at the end of the game, almost as if it was being wrung out of him.

    I so hope they haven't gone and unofficially promised the job elsewhere and were looking for an excuse not to have SL.

    Otherwise the next big spectacle at HQ might be a public hanging in the car park!

  • Comment number 12.

    First off, congrats to Wales, they deserved the Slam. They are a very complete team with a very good coach. But, Warren, look over your shoulder because England will be challenging you guys next year.

    England did a great job on a much vaunted Irish team today. Lewis Moody's post match comments spot on - international rugby 80% about the common belief and Lancaster and is team seem to have tapped into that very well. We don't need a big name coach, we need a coach who instils belief and gives a clear direction. Give SL and team the job. Rowntree has done wonders with the forwards.

    Compare England to Scotland, probably not a massive difference in the individual players but Scotland look like a team who believe they can't win. England are now the opposite.

    Robshaw also deserves much praise. Not a flashy player but a strong leader. Just what we needed.

  • Comment number 13.

    The extraordinary fact is that England have an ordinary set of players - not many starting Lions, if any. Thrown together 8 weeks ago and by their fith game looking invincible in the NH. Lancaster is a genius.

  • Comment number 14.

    Jon #13

    By that reasoning every young player is ordinary, surely, although I do take your point about Lancaster’s ability to get the best out of them.
    You only become good under the right circumstances: otherwise Ritchie MacCaw would be ordinary too.

    But in absolute terms there is nothing ordinary about the England front row, Ben Morgan, Ben Foden, Manu Tuilagi or Owen Farrell – average age 22.

  • Comment number 15.

    Actaully fair play to Ireland for not using the Wasps tactic of switching to uncontested scrums.

    It was good to see Youngs come back and make a positive impact, on other blogs I have seen this used to criticize the selection of Dickson. For me, it is the proof that the coach is getting things right. Too often in the past we have seen coaches clinging on to their favourites, regardless of form. Youngs deserved to be dropped, and Dickson deserved to get the curly finger yesterday.

  • Comment number 16.

    Plenty of reasons to be optimistic over England's future. The team can only improve the more experience they get playing together. Also Youngs appears to be returning to form, Courtney Lawes will return to the side, and hopefully we will see Manu switched to 12 and Jonathon Joseph introduced at 13 in the not too distant future.

    Plus my 87 year old grandfather has been told he's to be selected ahead of Ashton for the next test so that will be a further improvement to the team.

  • Comment number 17.

    As I said last time, Lancaster has shown that he should at least be given the chance to lead England through to the next World Cup. Whilst the first half yesterday was full of handling errors from both sides, I thought England were magnificent in the second half, especially in the scrum and the drive. I bet nobody thought this England side would bully an Irish scrum line-up about, and I also bet nobody thought England would come second in this series.

    It's clear that the players are really enjoying playing again, and the celebrations at the two tries said it all for me. Lancaster has brought hunger and pride back into the England dressing room, now let's hope the RFU see sense and don't rip that hunger and pride out just as it's building up.

  • Comment number 18.

    Don't forget this was Ireland's third 6N match in three consecutive weekends ... and it clearly showed. That was always going to be a big ask for the Irish especially without PO'C and BO'D and England greatly benefitted from playing them last.

    Having said that, still very impressive and very enjoyable to see England's progress, remember the general concensus pre-season was that we would win 2 games max. It would have been very interesting if England had played Wales at the end of the tournament rather than midway, it might have been a different outcome if that had been the case but many congratulations to Wales, it is their turn now but England's turn may come a lot sooner than many envisaged.

    The building blocks are now firmly in place, the team spirit and momemntum are there, seems like an ideal time for the RFU to make a complete horlicks of the full-time appointments and put everything back to square one again ...

  • Comment number 19.

    Just take 5 to remember what free-fall England were in. You could hear those 16 hooves just around the corner.
    Good honest down to earth Cumbrian grit. No fancy Pennyhill Park (great for a trip with the missus with huge bathrooms) up to Leeds and back down to earth.
    Yes not perfect but a clear direction and strategy, young players building for the future/world cup, and pride (and some great rugby too).
    England boring/arrogant, always a bit of a celtic red herring, no longer.
    If they don't give Stuart the job I will be on the train down to help with the car park ceremony already suggested. But remember there is still one R Andrew on the committee.
    Still much work to do, but on the pitch we know where we are going, and if your not good enough your dropped, we need to take SL approach to the suits now.
    Oh and please Mr Lancaster, please don't use the phrase "the reality is" widely used by our political class and guaranteed to alert everyone's BS alarm. Apart from that pretty faultless.

  • Comment number 20.

    I think we need a cold-blooded assessment of this season from an England perspective. As usual fans are carried along purely by results. It needs a very careful consideration.

    Firstly in terms of performances it started poorly. England should have lost both the Scotland and Italy games, contriving to gift two tries to an Italy side that could hardly buy a try any other way, managing only one against a Scotland side that was completely out of sorts. Negative tactics seemed to be deployed, as if Lancaster took the attitude that we must not lose either of these and feared we would. Much like MJ's philosophy but fortunately without too many ageing and out-of-form players sent out.

    The play against Wales was much, much better. A more positive approach reaping some rewards. However, to be fair England stopped Wales playing absolutely, then failed to apply the killer touch and actually win. That was a bad loss in a game utterly dominated by England and it came down to a mistake again which nearly cost us against Italy.

    Then the change. France played extremely poorly but England totally dominated that match and should have romped home by a bigger margin. The Ireland victory was a hugely impressive win, the much vaunted Irish backs showing little and being harried off the ball by ferocious tackling and the forwards, well least said.

    Overall it is clearly an England team, bags of possession, decent pack, struggling for invention and not finishing off chances as well as we might. The pack has been much better than most expected. Both props are very good and Hartley has been allowed to play and develop (unlike under MJ when the almost geriatric Steve Thompson was brought on for him every 5 minutes). The second row is not made up of names but both guys have been strong and sound in the loose. Croft is excellent in the lineout and the loose. Morgan has been outstanding. Given the fears I think most Englishmen had for this pack getting overrun we can be proud of their actions. However, I still think we lack two major things. One is dynamism in the loose. Croft is a runner but we are not bullocking through carrying men along like say the Irish loose forwards or Falatau. Also we lack strength at the breakdown, so much nowadays is to do with what is so often called a 'genuine number 7'. What we need are men who can stay on their feet and force the turnover.

    The backs are something of an enigma. Lancaster began with the wrong back-line. Hodgson is not and never has been an international standard 10. Flood must be justly deeply aggrieved. Farrell is probably too small to play 12 in the 6N. His kicking is brilliant but he is not a general and his passing is not incisive enough yet. Getting Tuilagi back was the crucial change. He is a very dangerous player. However, I am not convinced by the Barrit-Tuilagi axis. Both are big and powerful men, mighty tacklers and strong runners but neither seems to have much craft or vision. The wings are not seeing the ball at all and this is partially due to it not getting past the centres who are somewhat wedded to crash-ball and bullocking runs. Scrum half is a problem position right now. Ashton and Strettle need to move inside and look for work. Nobody needs to hear about quick ball and we are not doing this right now. Full back is clearly a major strength, but I would like to see Foden attack more.

    There are still major problems to be addressed. One is the lack of invention and, frankly passing, in midfield. I hoped that with the passing of Tindall the days of heads down bullocking and rarely passing were over. I know it is the Welsh model but that relies on more craft in the centres than we possess. Players are not being supported as well as they could and regularly getting isolated. As usual with England penetration is poor and many opportunities are getting butchered. Top of my list though is slow ball, at times it has been painful.

    However, the improvement has been incredible as well. The defence is brutal and must make the opposition wary. Work rate and ethic are excellent and Farrell's kicking is nerveless. Some of the running in the backs has been excellent and the pack has really shown a lot more than many expected.

    Personally I am not getting carried away with Lancaster. He did what the English game has been crying out for since 2003 and dispensed with the older, jaded players. That MJ still had WC winners playing in the 2011 competition showed how conservative and unimaginative his reign was. I think any decent coach would do this to be honest. I also disagree with those who think England have no really good players. They are there right across the team, not in every position but in most.

    Let the RFU spend a while really thinking this through. Before the tournament I would have been all for marching on HQ if anyone but a proven coach was foisted on England yet again. Now I am undecided, Lancaster has shown a lot. Now I will trust professional rugby people to assess his reign and decide if he is worthy of this job. No knee-jerk reactions, if he gets it be sure it is his influence and not his coaches or the new players. Get it right this time, if he is not the man don't be bullied into it.

    Just my thoughts!

  • Comment number 21.

    What a tremendous game for England. The Welsh are grand slam champions and I begrudgingly applaud them (I am English after all)
    The RFU can make a right horlicks of the next bit though, and I think it's a reflection of their disregard for the grass roots supporter that has caused the initial problems, I still think there are problems in the higher echelons of English rugby.
    Squeaky clean Mr Andrews will still run to cover and deny any responsibility when the going gets tough. Well done to lancaster and his team, a bit of pride back in our game

  • Comment number 22.

    Hat off to the referee for allowing teams to scrum. How many times have we seen referees given the side on the back foot the benefit of the doubt or be conned by false problems. He let England scrum.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm struggling to see any difference between the England performance in the Six Nations last year and this year.

    Both won 4 close games playing similar styles of Rugby and both missed out on a grand slam due to some extremely poor officiating.

    Yes there are a few more young players in the squad but Johnson also increased the number of young players and this has continued as a result of post World Cup retirements.

    I would keep Lancaster but I still consider it a huge mistake that Johnson was allowed to go.

  • Comment number 24.


    As you acknowledge, England were not great in the first couple of games. However, there is a clear improvement over the course of the tournament, and it is probably safe to say that barring injuries and other unfortunate events, this team can continue to improve. Surely Lancaster has to take credit for having the guts to start again with such inexperienced players. Yes he does, and I won't call you Shirley again.

    Lancaster deserves the praise he is getting, and with the right support I do think he can provide the proper base on which to build, which is what the team needs - no return to the old guard, and no "mates rates" with preferred players playing no matter what their form.

    It's only fair that Lancaster is given the chance to continue the path that he has started.

  • Comment number 25.

    Well done Lancaster and England, pride back in the shirt. Lancaster must be given the job, though I would suggest an experienced assistant/backs coach be taken on board alongside Lancaster.
    People on here moaning about Englands back play, well lets see Scotland, Italy and Ireland games were not conditions for running Rugby. Think this will improve with time and games.
    Imediate issues are the return of Wood, as Croft & Morgan are nailed on starters, does that mean Robshaw moves aside which would be hard on him. Dowson is not international class, need a more dynamic ball carrier coming off bench.
    I would take Jonny May on summer tour, looks a very exciting prospect.

    Very close game against Wales, England could of been celebrating a grand slam this morning, the boys done good.

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm gonna cause a ruck here, Robshaw is not international standard. Yes he's a good captain but we need to have a proper number 7 playing in that position.

    When the summer comes around he will also have Haskell, Wood and Clark challenging for his position.

  • Comment number 27.

    26.SaintsFTWw wrote:

    I'm gonna cause a ruck here, Robshaw is not international standard.

    Who would you replace him with Saints?

    From my point of view i thought i'd keep my eye on him through the tournament and he was an absolute work horse. Consistently consistent - a quality that may not be winning accolades or 'glory', but a quality that is desperatley needed at this point in time of England's development.

    I am horrifically bias though due to being west london born and bred and dragged to the stoop since i was old enough to fall over! ;D

  • Comment number 28.

    Firstly, massive respect and congratulations to Wales.

    As an Englishman I don't want to focus on the negatives. England exceeded all expectation. With a little luck we could havé drawn with Wales, though I am not convinced it was a try and the conversion would have been acute (though you've got to back young Farrell).

    I'm just proud of the team's performances.

    Surely, the confirmation of SL's reign as permanent England coach, with no add-on clauses (e.g. that there's some big name overseeing team development) is now hours away.

    Well done England and Captain Robshaw.

    I live in France and am an avid francophone, so I just wanted to say that Phillipe Saint-Andre's job looks to be a difficult one. Good luck to him.

  • Comment number 29.

    We have seen progress in every area of the team over the course of five difficult matches. That alone should see SL get the job, though like a few others, I rather fear the job has been promised elsewhere and behind closed doors the RFU will be desperately backtracking.

    A coaching team including Farrell on defence, Rowntree on scrums, Wayne Smith on attack and skills and someone like Dean Ryan on forwards with Stu in charge would be a nice blend of experience and 'youth'.

    I have to agree on Robshaw as a 7. We saw Sean O'Brien, a quality 6, being ineffective whilst used as a 7 and if we are to truly be one of the best in the world, we need a world class 7.

    Farrell junior has been very impressive in lots of areas. However, his passing is not (yet) slick enough for him to be nailed into the shirt for the next ten years. Barritt has been perfect for this campaign, but longer term, as defences adapt, the pairing of him and Tuilagi does not have the necessary variety. I've rated Jonathan Joseph for a long time now, and Manu at 12 and JJ at 13 looks like an exciting midfield.

    Jonny May must go on the summer tour. Whilst not a complete player, he has the potential to be a game-changer at the highest level, something few of the current crop do. Youngs is back in form (game against Gloucester proved that).

    Exciting times to be an English fan for sure. Another step up in the summer though, and whoever does end up in charge has got to be ruthless in searching for the very best in players and performance: no comfortable shoe-ins for positions in team or squad and a very clear message to premiership players that if you're good enough, you're old enough.

    Give Stu the job, Mr Ritchie.

  • Comment number 30.

    #26 I think there are some big decisions to be made in the back row. Part of the problem is that while Croft is an outstanding rugby player, he is not a traditional 6 - a telling moment in the commentary for the French game was about Croft being at his most effective out wide. By contrast Wales have a great balance to their back row - a top class openside, a 6 who will tackle everything that moves and a ball carrying 8, lacking perhaps only in the lineout.

    Robshaw is probably yet another 6.5s (Moody being the best example), arguably not a traditional 7. On the other hand he has led the side by example, and against Wales and France has come up against two world class 7s without letting down the team. Robshaw is not in the McCaw class, but he is a solid international player.

    If England can find a world class 7, then it will be hard to keep Robshaw in the side (same applies to the other 14), but the players you list are certainly not automatic choices to oust him.
    Haskell is not a 7, to me he looks like an option as an impact player from the bench, but doesn't look a natural fit for any of the back row positions.
    Had he been fit at the start, then the choice between Wood and Robshaw would have been very tight, IMO Wood may have just shaded it, but I think he has to make a stronger case to justiify dropping Robshaw.

  • Comment number 31.

    I can't see any reason not to give Lancaster the job, as the old adage goes, results speak for themselves.

    This was actually a pretty good quality Six Nations, with strong Welsh, Irish and French teams (on paper at least with the last two) so Lancaster's and Englands acheivements need to be viewed in that context.

    Also, there is a point in any development cycle, where tearing the whole thing down and starting from scratch, creates better growth and development of potential than tinkering with a tired model. The England players have obviously bought into Lancaster's thinking and more importantly, young, aspirational players know that they have a chance of getting into the national side.

    With the return of the likes of Lawes and Wood and the exciting young talent blossoming across the Premiership, I believe this younger, fresher, hungrier model is what's required. I've certainly enjoyed it.

    A final thought. Could Nick Mallet have done any better than Lancaster in an 8 week period. Having seen the way the RFU operates, they'll probably still go for Mallet and in the act of doing so, alienate a large majority of the grass-roots support but that's never bothered them in the past.

  • Comment number 32.

    To James: Thanks you I had forgotten the ref, what a cracking job he did, the fact that no one else mentioned it proves he was quietly efficient. He needed to be because the standard of reffing in the six nations was awful. There must be a shake up in the world of the refs. I know we always complain when we lose but honestly we have seen some shockers and Allain Rolland was dire, in all the games i saw him officiate he was panterloones.
    To see a fellow prop destroyed like the Irish loose head(playing Tight head) was both saddening and satisfying in equal measures. He will learn from that. I was interested to hear everyone saying Cole had played fantastically but Corbs was awesome on the loose head and really deserves the plaudits from all the purveyors of the dark arts. I for one loved it.

  • Comment number 33.

    Well - We shall find out soon if Ian Ritchie is the right Chief Executive for the RFU, since on just the indications thus far I already have serious concerns. I'd hate for him not to appoint Lancaster full time, by this show that whilst he may have an administration capability he has a shallow understanding of what we value and what should be important in English Rugby and take us back years.

  • Comment number 34.


    Excellent post. I learned from it.

  • Comment number 35.

    @7 & 34

    Agreed - And I believe England can be successful with a developing Farrell, providing we have complimentary players and play a certain way. Even the great Jonny Wilkinson needed the likes of Greenwood and Dawson around him to perform at his best. I believe as well that we should not already discount other talent for No 10 - I mean - we'd all love a Dan Carter to turn up somewhere!

  • Comment number 36.


    Did you watch the Italy/Scotland match. Rolland officiated. I have never seen a game so disrupted by an official's incessant need to talk and talk and talk. The guy's certifiable!

  • Comment number 37.

    @20: I can't argue with your statement that a cold blooded assessment is required.

    But that is proving difficult and you go on to show why with the rest of your post by applying personal assessment of the games which i believe is flawed for a variety of reasons and goes against your cold/hard assessment requirement. The question of "is Lancaster the right man for the job" is much, much bigger than the individual performances or even the individual performances within each game .....

    Not that i believe this is relevant but i actually don't subscribe to the notion that England should have lost the first two games as against Italy they only fell behind to 2 soft try's in 2 minutes and then succeeded in digging themselves out of a self made hole - perhaps a 19-3 scoreline would have relected play more fairly, and against Scotland only a Denton try-saving tackle prevented England opening a 20-3 lead .... But even had this panned out in "should-have/would-have land" would it have changed the cold hard facts about how england played and the big question: who is the right man?

    I don't disagree with many of your points that follow, there is much work to do on this England team - but that is the case or would have been the case who ever was in charge and I don't subscribe to the arguement that Lancaster has only done "what any other coach would have done" I believe his experience with the junior England sides gave him a unique ability to do what has been done; surely this is what the RFU were banking on! But does it make him the best candidate going forward?

    So all this should-have/would-have post-game assessment goes against a cold-hard assessment which should probably focus on results, performance, leadership, off-field performance and future potential (as far as Lancaster is concerned). My concern is that the RFU allowed Lancaster to interview out of politeness almost but not expecting him to present a credible candidate, but now that he has I find it hard to believe they can/will change their approach which i believe was/is entirely aimed at experinced candidates like Mallet; Lancaster has probably become a source of inconvenience to the RFU now.

    Do I believe he should get the role? yes I do .... now ... Mainly because of all the other names in the frame non excite me nor do I believe anyone will do a better job than Lancaster; So give Lancaster the job and let's see ..

    A bigger question is perhaps, why is the candidate pool so poor for what has to be one of the top jobs in world rugby?

  • Comment number 38.

    As to Nick Mallett, if the RFU wish to offer him a job, please, please make it Rob Andrews

  • Comment number 39.

    35.At 10:35 18th Mar 2012, wallywalnut wrote:
    @7 & 34

    Agreed - And I believe England can be successful with a developing Farrell, providing we have complimentary players and play a certain way. Even the great Jonny Wilkinson needed the likes of Greenwood and Dawson around him to perform at his best. I believe as well that we should not already discount other talent for No 10 - I mean - we'd all love a Dan Carter to turn up somewhere!


    The main problem is that for Sale Hodgson plays and Farrell at centre. If this continues then he will not develop quickly enough into the player we think he can be.

    I do believe however he is extremely important for how this team develops. That said we need to develop around him which means finding a better inside centre with better running lines and handling skills (if only we could find another Greenwood). Barritt has been top class but is sadly limited and if England are to progress we need another option. However at this point I'm not sure we have anyone?

  • Comment number 40.


    In answer to your final question; I believe the England managers jobs in both rugby and football are now viewed as poison chalices across the sporting world. Problems in the RFU and FA, combined with the vitriolic nature of the English sporting press don't make them attractive propositions. Interestingly, Lancaster and (Stuart) Pearce (who is in a similiar care-taking postion with the football team) strike me as similiar characters, hard-working, honest troopers. That might be what both sports need at this point. Wonder if they talk?

  • Comment number 41.


    (sorry if I'm over-posting. Not an expert but LOVE the game).

    In answer to the paucity of candidates question, might it be because SL's promotion from Saxons to Senior team met with such overwhelming initial approval? Then a few games into the 6N, his credentials and stature seemed to grow.

    There will be hell to pay if SL doesn't get the role even, as now seems unlikely, Nik Mallet gets it. And Mallet has served the English domestic game much as Andy Flower served County cricket. Jake White was only ever concerned to flatter himself with his tweets. Perhaps it doesn't reflect well on English RU that big names haven't come forward. But England rugby will profit from this.

    Lastly. SL has to be given some slack during the autumn schedule. Media take note.

  • Comment number 42.


    See what you're getting at but Pearce effectively ruled himself out. Why? Further, I don't think that England RU coach is the poisoned cup which England football coach certainly is. Rather than getting involved in the hype, SL quietly laid out his credentials for all to see. Stuart Pearce, who has the qualities you describe, has not had the opportunity to do that. I'm not convinced that he has the appetite for having his family name being inextricably linked to a garden-variety vegetable.

  • Comment number 43.

    @23 (Bob)
    At 09:49 18th mar 2012, Bob wrote:
    "I'm struggling to see any difference between the England performance in the Six Nations last year and this year".

    You are joking, right? You are really comparing Johnson's 3rd 6 Nations, played with a settled team, with Lancaster's first?
    Firstly, with SL England have costantly improved, whereas last season, as the tournament went on, England constantly worsened. And ended up being totally humiliated by the very same Irish side that they have just obliterated.
    If Martin Johnson was still around, he'd still be relying on the likes of Mike Tindall, Cueto, Hape (!) and Deacon, for goodness' sake.
    Easter would still be playing at number 8 and Ben Morgan, Owen Farrell and Chris Robshaw would still be rotting in that pointless limbo that are the Saxons.
    On top of that, he would still rely on the likes of Mike Ford, Brian Smith and John Wells.
    Johnson was inadequate, arrogant, inexperienced and blinded by his loyalty towards his players. He has the potential to become a good coach, but first he must learn his trade at club level.

  • Comment number 44.

    Regarding Chris Robshaw's position as Captain and as starting openside, I think people need to pay their attention to one Steffon Armitage.

    He has been absolutely imperious week in week out down in Toulon and has to be included for the summer tour. Armitage is simply the missing link for this England side. This RFU policy of only selecting players playing in the premiership is ludicrous.

    But if Armitage is included, where would Robshaw, Haskell and Wood fit in. For me personally, Croft and Morgan have to be nailed on starters. Robshaw has been a magnificent captain, but he is not a natural 7 and Croft is making the blindside position his own, so who takes the 7 position? Is Tom Wood really that good? An excellent grafter and solid performer. And Haskell, an impact player form the bench? I haven't seen enough of him this year to know whether he would get in to this England Back Row.

    I feel that Croft should be at 6, Armitage at 7 and Morgan at 8. Have Robshaw on the bench and of course, injuries will force selection at some point. The depth that England have here is superb!

  • Comment number 45.

    This new look England have far exceeded my expectations this year in the last three performances. The opening matches did not bode well with two charge downs being the difference and it looked like England would avoid the wooden spoon, then a gutsy match against Wales that they were unfortunate not to draw (and that is from a Welshman). I feel that match did two things, it game them the belief that they can stand toe to toe with the established teams and it took away the pressure of creeping up on a championship or grand slam (like the team last year). The games against France and Ireland were not shows of perfection or dominance but guts and determination. I don't know whether the opposition underestimated them, or whether the fact that both teams had a grueling schedule played into either match but England outplayed them both. The Ireland match was a total surprise as it is the first time in this years tournament where one of the top four have lost by more than 7 points.

    Whether this can be developed in the coming year or remains a 2-3 year project (like the new look Wales of 2003) this team (including the coaching staff) has a potentially bright future and should be regularly challenging for the 6N title.

  • Comment number 46.

    Another England renaissance Oh please smell the coffee. Thats all England are every 18 months,another renaissance. For the last eight years all England has done is try and make a manager from one of the backroom boys. Its has failed these last eight years it will fail again. Lets get England a decent manager with a proven track record at international level. Our top managers do not want the job. Ok get one from abroad. Lancaster is just an experiment too far. Its down the middle wingers in defence. Lancaster is rubbish. It will fail if Lancaster gets the job. Rest in 18 months as England panic to find a new manager 2 years before the world cup. Lets hope its not Lancaster that gets the job. sorry just cannot agree with all the hype about lancaster.

  • Comment number 47.

    #46 I just don't see why you are so convinced that Nick Mallett is the saviour of English rugby. In the last 10 years his record as an international coach is 9 wins from 42 games - of course it was with Italy, but even so, it is hardly a record to prove that he is the man to lead England at the next World Cup.
    Yes his record with South Africa was impressive, right up until the wheels came off at the 99 world cup, but he did take over a very strong pool of players, and teh game has changed in the last 12 years - there is no proof that he is the man to rebuild the England side.

    I am sure Mallett would do a good job, but it is just the same pattern as Sven and Capello with the football team - bring in a high profile coach. then blame him if the players are not good enough. At the start of the year White was the chosen man - until it turned out he didn't want the role and was doing a bit of Mourinho style self-publicity.

    For the big jobs there is no such thing as a proven track record, Woodward's record with England was fantastic, he still turned out to be a disaster as a lions coach. Gatland was a disaster with Ireland, and has now won 2 grand slams, and guided Wales to their best ever finish in a world cup.

  • Comment number 48.


    Can you smell the optimism?

  • Comment number 49.

    For eight years our best English managers will not take the job. We have had fill in managers every 18 months on average that when promoted to full time managers fail. Nothing you can say to me that will convince me it will not happen again. Lancaster has left out our best players. This is a six nations lost just like last year. Since our best English managers have shown over the last eight years they dont want the job, look abroad. Lancaster is a up the middle, sit the wingers in defence.
    He is not of international standard and he is not that good at it. No vison, no game plan, other than defend and counter down the middle. Eight years rugby and all England talk about is who is next years manager. That wont change if Lancaster gets the job. New manager in 18 months.

  • Comment number 50.

    At the start of this tournament it was hard to see many if any englishmen in the lions 22 for the first test against Australia next year. After these performances it may not be the Welsh/Irish domination we thought it would be. Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins will not be shoe-ins now and I think the likes of Croft, Morgan and Robshaw will push hard for places. The prospect of Roberts and Tuialagi in the centre is exciting too. Should be a great series.

  • Comment number 51.

    How many England players are up fpr player of the tournament despite England coming 2nd. How many wingers scored tries. Croft was always a shoe in as is Lawes when fit. By not useing our best players Lancester has turned England into an experimental team, not a team going forward.

  • Comment number 52.

    I agree with everything said by isengard (No. 20). However, until we have better players in some positions, especially number 7 and 12, surely we have to pick the best we have. The key thing someone interviewed for the job has to do, in my opinion, is set out a vision AND a plan to get there. I would ask about player selection and development and about learning from other coaches. If SL is appointed, he needs to be helped to get the whole system right in the way that Woodward did. Can the RFU do that? Do they really understand what is needed to succeed at the top level? No sign of that at all, and until they do, any coach will have an impossible job. Ask Mallett about setting up a whole system, ask SL the same. What SL has proved he can do is make the most of the players he has. They know what to do and believe that they can do it. Good job done, but a bigger job remains.

  • Comment number 53.

    It will be the same plan same vision. Lancaster.Then new manager 18 months times.

  • Comment number 54.

    well played Eng. they put a tired, understrength Irish side to the sword in conditions that should have favoured the men in green.

    From England having concerns about not having any number 8 prospects they appear to have found a man with the deft of touch, power and tight grit to take them to 2015 in Ben Morgan. The front row look very good, although still think Hartley could do with losing some timber.

    Parling has been a great find, deceptive in the carry, hard in defense, aggressive at the breakdown and strong in the lineout. His graft will complement Lawes athleticism nicely.

    Still believe Youngs is the future for England at 9. Form temporary, class permanent etc.

    I'm not convinced by Farrell. At all. Yesterday was his most complete performance and his distribution was mediocre again, although his kicking from hand was improved. Flood offers much more in attack, but to have the two fight for the position could be intriguing, while everyone waits for George Ford to mature a little.

    Not only is there a problem with 'deftness' for England in the midfield (at 12), it runs throughout the British Isles, apart from BOD. There isn't a single footballing 12 that the Lions could call upon next year. Barritt is one of the best defenders in the game, but doesn't look for the offload or offer the distributing skills a Flutey-esque used too (ironically something Hape was exceptional at doing, Englands support play was never great so no one seemed to notice) and Tuilagi is not a distributor, nor is Foden.

    The big problem for England is at 7, but having kept a watchful eye on the performances of Steffon Armitage at Toulon, I have been very impressed. His dynamism, breakdown work and all round skill set are outstanding and England could do with getting him back the right side of the Channel. If he wa paired with a workmen-like presence in Robshaw, England would have a nice balance in the backrow.

  • Comment number 55.

    I think 1-15 England stood up and showed great character and belief in this tornament. I suppose this has only been helped by the changes and mass clearout from the World Cup.
    Lancaster needed to mould his own squad which he has done and he has started to create a bit of a winning mentality. Guys who front up, play with pride and truly believe they can win. I see a lot of positivity in these guys, especially from the likes of Robshaw, Croft, Foden and Farrell who when he gets interviewed is completley unfazed by the hype or the challenges he faces.

    I definitley dont think we are the finished article and there were points yesterday in the first 15 mins that i wondered if we were returning to the England of old(running round like headless chickens, playing so slowly - Dickson taking 10 minutes to execute box kicks!!), but they regained there composure which is a stark contrast to the England of old..... We have a great foundation for the next few years, some talented young players and a lot of self confidence.

    I say roll on the Summer and Autumn, where hopefully we will have SL as manager, Farrel Senior and Rowntree as our coaching team. ABs, SA and AUS will be a great test for this young team and will give them even more experience and hopefully confidence, so next season we may just end up with a grand slam.... I hope.

  • Comment number 56.

    and @rulechangecrazy which of our 'best' players has Lancaster left out?

  • Comment number 57.

    First thing's first - this has not been a tournament full of great rugby and it is difficult to judge where England are based due to the less than high quality opposition. 4 wins out of 5 was a good achievement, but Lancaster needs to be judged on performances not results - I would say the same had Scotland finished off any one of 10 openings to beat England, or had Trinh Duc's drop goal attempt snuck over the post.

    So looking at it objectively and not with some ludicrous over the top reaction to some semblance of light after years in the darkness:

    I don't think this England teams suits the Saracens game plan - the game yesterday was a fairly awful - England were clueless in the backs, and I had to check whether Strettle was playing or not. The set up is still based on defence - i.e. kick the ball away and set up a defensive line.

    I don't think Lancaster was very strong with his squad choice - Brown should have been given a couple of games to get experience. Ashton should have been dropped, and told to use his club to get back to form and not the England team. The substitutions were patchy throughout - and more tuned to a strict gameplan and not what was actually happening.

    I would love to see Lancaster retained in the set up with someone brought in alongside. I would also love to see big Farrell go back to Saracens and a full time backs coach who can get England playing offensive rugby to win games, and not hoping strong defence is enough.

  • Comment number 58.

    agree that we are some way from finished - inside centre, open side?- article but this group of players finishing second, winning in Paris who would have believed that 8 weeks ago? Lancaster deserves the job; SCW wasn't first choice in 97, RFU were after Henry, but despite regular cock ups grand slams missed in first four years, he got in right in the end.
    The group of players Lancaster has is nowhere near as good, yet, as that which SCW inherited in 97, but neither is expectation as high. we should carry on building towards 2015, if we win 6N between now and then, all well and good, but some long term thinking between now and then, please, for once.

    team for 2015


    Ashton- he has to get back to 10-11 form by then?


    Wood C


  • Comment number 59.

    Ditto. Help us "Rulechangecrazy" and explain where resides the rich vein of talent Lancaster has so callously disregarded. Every coach has a style and every selection is s compromise of sorts. Sure, this side plays "Route 1 North" rugby that drives some crazy. I would argue that Wales does the same and the pretty stuff only happens once the baby elephants have finished the pummeling job.

    Overall this was a satisfying campaign that dramatically exceeded expectations. While we have seen the "England Renaissance" thing before I feel that this time we are not pinning it on one person (exhibit A: Cipriani) and instead have a new set of lads at about the same age and stage of development all striving and all still hungry.

    By the way, thanks to the BBC for putting this on BBC America. Made my day to walk to the beer shop with my ENgland shirt on yesterday while all the drunks tried to heckle me for not wearing green.

  • Comment number 60.

    Proudly Welsh and extremely happy to be supporting a growing and talented national side, I have on occasion (justifiably) criticised English rugby as grinding, boring and very frustrating. No longer! Lancaster's influence seems to have energised England and they are playing the most attractive rugby I have seen them play - ever. Keep it up - I am looking forward to a real contest at the Millenium Stadium next year! Don't look back - Keep Lancaster!

  • Comment number 61.

    #51 who are these "best players" that Lancaster has been leaving out, on the face of it just to annoy you.

    Youngs is a talent, but he had a shocker in the first two games, and deserved to be dropped. England's biggest failing over the past 8 years is that once a player becomes recognised as an England regular, it can be harder to get out of the team then to get into it.

    Wilkinson was poor at the World Cup, but Johnson kept with him, to the point where when he decided he didn't trust Wilko as a kicker, he changed England's entire game plan bringing Flood in at 12. Equally he kept with Stevens at Loosehead, despite the fact that he was clearly struggling in that position.

    Lawes was injured at the start of the 6N, didn't exactly advance his claims for a starting place against Wales - his only meaningful contribution was to attempt to take on the Wales defence on his own, having the ball ripped by a centre, for the game winning try. He then got injured again.

    Fully match fit and in form Lawes deserves to be in the side, but it has to be based on performances, not the fact that he is a big name.

    England are far from a finished team, but given the size of the rebuilding job, Lancaster has done OK so far. There is no miracle cure, but a coach who picks players in their natural positions, based on form not reputation, and who gets the players to show pride in the shirt is a good start.

  • Comment number 62.

    The forwards have been the highlight of the 6N for me. The front row is coming along nicely and will be together until 2015, and there is clear depth there. Botha is good, but lawes offers a better long-term option. Again, we have depth there, and at 6,7,8 we have the most depth i have seen for ages. Problem? robshaw is a tremendous 7 for quins (sometimes 6) but people don't see him as an 'out and out 7' Nobody really knows the difference, and in fact there is little difference exempt that you expect the 7 to do the majority of the break-down work - which robs haw does, he has an engine on him. Morgan is a real find, and croft is world class in the loose. Armitage is an interesting option, but Tom wood is likely to be around the XV this summer. the backs need a lot of help. Tuilagi is fine at 13, farrell is talented, foden/brown competition is healthy. But ashton must be dropped to show that you cannot be picked on form from 12 months ago. Look at the young marlan yards/anthony watson from london irish, or Jonny may at gloucester .....or Simpson-daniel who has been excellent for glos this year. Why do we insist on using two wingers who don't score tries who are out of form and as of next year are both playing for the dullest side on the planet?? so many attacking options at 11 and 14. Ross Chisolm as Quins is a talent, so is Sharples. But 12 and 10 remain the problem areas - i have no answer to 12. there is a clear lack of midfield talent in england atm

  • Comment number 63.

    #11 Coarsesportsman / #33 wallywalnut
    Don't be too quick to criticise Mr Ritchie. Remember that the main selection task actually lies with the panel (McGeechan, Andrew, O'Shea, Hill). The board of the RFU chose to delay the appointment process for the new coach until after Mr Ritchie's arrival (he may well have made this a condition of his appointment). His brief was to spare no effort and no expense to find the best possible coach for the England team, and the board expected him to find a man with a glittering CV, fabulous reputation, ability to walk on water etc. They then discover that an extremely strong candidate was right under their noses all along. If the panel and Mr Ritchie do the obvious and popular thing and recommend Mr Lancaster, the board is going to look mightily stupid, so I have some sympathy for their predicament - I have had very, very few bosses who didn't mind me embarrassing them in public.
    I am surprised that (apparently) nobody in the press has been talking to the selection panel, because they are actually the people who will make the initial selection which is given to Mr Ritchie to take to the board. One of my friends at Quins cornered Mr O'Shea in the bar but got nothing out of him.

    #20 Isengard
    Thank you for being brave enough to take a look in the cold of the dawn. It's worth noting that fluency in attack is the most difficult thing to coach and is therefore probably one of the last blocks that will be put in place - it requires great understanding between the players and an awful lot of work on both skills and awareness to ensure that they are always creating the necessary options.

    #42 R-Brooker
    Pearce ruled himself out of the footy job by claiming that he didn't yet have enough experience. Arguably true, but I suspect he's wise enough to realise that as a number two man he can probably contribute more to the team's development and suffer much less from the media.

    #44 cjjw
    Agree about Armitage - a real open-side, though his lack of stature is considered by some to be a problem. If you think Tom Wood is not up to it, see if you can find a recording of his performance for Saints against Scarlets last weekend. Brilliant, especially after a couple of months out.

    Something which has not been mentioned much, but I think is extremely important. The new coach MUST have as part of his job description the implementation of a really effective 'development pathway' whereby promising young players are given extra coaching and support (probably in the Saxons) as they progress towards the first team. It's something that we often neglect, but I suspect it's an area where Mr Lancaster might trump all his rivals. How exciting to think that as the current squad gets better they could/should be challenged by the likes of May, Trinder, Joseph, Burns, Ford etc followed not long after by Yard, Watson, Walker, Robson et al

  • Comment number 64.

    #57 Brown is unlucky not to be in the England team, but dropping Foden for him would have been a brave call. Sadly Brown is not, and never will be an International winger.

    England do need to offer more in attack, but keep Farrell as defence coach - we only conceded 4 tries in 5 games - and 2 of those game from England making mistakes with the ball, another game from a ricochet

    Regardless of who the next full time coach is, they need to be given the freedom to pick their own coaching team. Robinson went downhill fast when an external coaching team was imposed on him, and their were rumours that the coaching staff went out of their way to undermine Ashton at 2007.

    I think the criticism of Ashton is a little harsh, the lack of tries is a worry, although for most of the 6N tries have been hard to come by for most teams. He has still worked for the team - certainly has been as good as Strettle and Sharples. I don't see an obvious replacement who would strengthen the team.

    Of course England could have lost to Scotland and France, but equally they could have beaten Wales. The gap between the 6N, and the top 3 in particular, is very small.

  • Comment number 65.

    I feel in terms of centres there are long term some nice prospects

    Elliot Daly at Wasps, Jonathan Joseph at LI, Charlie Walker...

    All more guile than crash and bash (but with other skills to add, Daly is a 50+ metre kicker and Joseph has a fair amount of power)

    Its the medium term thats a worry. Tuilagi looks like he's here to stay, a good thing in my opinion, but he may have to be shifted in to 12 if these sorts of players are to be given an opportunity, as they are certainly more 13's than 12, they all like the outside break.

    Slightly older than those guys would be Henry Trinder @ Glos., George Lowe & Matt Hopper @ Quins, 36 @ Leicester (although not for long) and Anthony Allen who's been very good this season before injury.

    All these guys offer more technical ability than brute force and as I still feel England need a second footballer in the backline, any one of them could get a look in at this stage and it be a positive step, they're all young-ish but not quite wet behind the ears.

    Another option if the right 12 isn't available is to change your 15 and give yourself a second distributor there. Alex Goode being the obvious candidate, head and shoulders above the rest. That might mean switching Foden to the wing, not necessarily a bad thing...

    Another interesting prospect is Tom Homer. Throughout age group level he's always been a 10/12. 12 being his best position in my book, but Toby Booth seems not to want to give him a go there at Irish. He has all the attributes you'd look for in a 2nd 5/8 kind of player, with enough pace and power to not be exposed physically at international level by the bigger centres...Oh and those exceptional kicking stats

  • Comment number 66.

    I would say that England have surpassed everyone's pre-6N expectations. The blogs from back then were saying that it's a rebuilding phase, that he is trying new players, that 2 wins and 3 gutsy losses would be a good campaign. In the end they won 4 and could easily have won the match vs Wales too. More importantly, hte performances have shown promise and he has a set of players that can grow together.

    #46 I don't agree with your post. It's very easy to be negative and say 'this won't work' but on what basis? It may well be that Lancaster ends up being another mistake, but I'm not sure what else he could have done. IMO Johnson never really produced anything as good as Lancaster has done in his short tenure.

    If you're calling for Mallet, well yes he had a decent record with SA, but then so did Peter de Villiers, and 99% of peopl (SA supporters included) are in agreement that he was completely clueless. Fortunately for him he had a set of world class players that covered up the fact that he was totally out of his depth. I'm not saying Mallet isn't good, but I don't think his credentials put him ahead of Lancaster now

  • Comment number 67.

    In the longer term Farrell should not play with Tuilagi at 12. George Ford or Freddie Burns will be the future at 10, Tuilagi left to play 12 in the Nonu style (crash ball, good angles, good off-loading) with someone at 13 who has genuine pace to burn, is strong defensively, and will add variety to an attack.

    I cannot believe people are suggesting Foden should be dropped! Brown is pretty good, but Foden is in my opinion world-class. Chris Paterson described him as the best FB in world rugby (which may be a bit strong), but we have someone who is fantastic in defence, picks beautiful lines in support, kicks well out of hand and is generally solid under the high ball. Madness to move him. Wing should be a specialist position, not somewhere to put those who aren't quite good enough in their regular position.

    Fantastic scrummaging yesterday, though frustrating that Dan Cole isn't getting the plaudits he deserves. Over the course of the 6N he has regularly made last ditch tackles, turned over more ball than anyone else I can think of, and scrummed wonderfully. As for Corbs, who I would not have picked on Premiership form... what a tournament! My man of the 6N for England, along with Morgan, Cole, Parling and Foden.

  • Comment number 68.


    I think you should seriously consider changing your crack dealer

  • Comment number 69.

    It would be interesting to understand Lancaster's team selections in this tournament. And the main one I would pick up on is why he has left out Flood? Even if he was not in the team I would still prefer Flood to Hodgson on the bench (and I am a Hodgson fan). Is it a form thing? or is it that Flod has not been meshing on the training ground with the way Lancaster wants to play?

    Youngs had lost his way and, if the Ireland game is anything to by, seems to have recovered most of his sharpness. If so that shows good stewardship. But I do wonder why Dickson has taken so long with defensive rucks - to which i will applaud the ref for threatening to award a turnover scrum if he did it again (oh, for more refs like that!).

    If he gets the fulltime job his squad for SA will give the first real indication of where he is going with his team. And I wonder who in the Saxons he has his eye on for bringing through.

    For the first time in ages I am not just happy with what they have achieved but am looking forward with far more optimism than I have done in years.

  • Comment number 70.

    #63 Ceddars

    If I may say so, excellent set of comments!

    Firstly, an interesting alternative on Mr Ritchie's apparent lack of joy...still in the kakky, but not for the reason that came to me. Mind you I wasn't suggesting that the gallows be just for him!

    Totally agree about Stuart Pearce think he's been very wise at this stage.

    Armitage...hmm. I was a fan of Neil Back in the days when they said he was too small for international rugby and how wrong did he prove them? We are lacking an "on the ground scrapper". I'm not in touch enough to make a judgement, do you think Steffon could fill the gap?

  • Comment number 71.

    @spidermike I agree, his SA squad should be a real opportunity to back up this momentum and bring some youngsters along, for the touring experience if nothing else.

    I hope he looks to take the core of this side forward, particularly in the pack. With one or two bigger names to come back in with Wood and Lawes, probably Clark as well. Plus an attempt to find that 'genuine 7' we've been missing. Possibly, Armitage but if they want to stay in England, Dave Skinner @ Sale, Wallace @ Quins maybe. Also Joe Launchbury could do with the experience. I like how he's been bringing in younger lads to train with them. Shows his desire to nurture for the future.

    The backs you'd imagine would stay relatively unchanged but its another opportunity to tour some youngsters. The henry trinder/jonny may/freddie burns (as a 3rd 10 after Flood and Farrell) Gloucester collective should get a look in. Although having watched SL's Saxons selection he seems to prefer Clegg to Burns as a 10.

    Barritt should definitely tour. Having played Super Rugby and been brought up around SA rugby, his exp. would be extremely valuable too

  • Comment number 72.

    @70 - Armitage could do it at international level.

    The problem for England is that they have Robshaw at 7 when he should be at 6, and Croft at 6 when he should have been turned into a lock or an 8. We do need a 6 to do that Kaino/Lydiate/Ferris role, and we do need a specialist 7 (the three top teams in world have three best 7s). Croft's form (and uniqueness) means he needs to play, whereabouts is the problem!

    Hopefully it will be something Mr Lancaster works out over the next twelve months for the run in to 2015.

  • Comment number 73.

    @Malchie and Coarse

    I definitely think Armitage is up to the task. His breakdown work is as good as Warburtons and he's a powerful carrier with some nice hands too. Exactly the kind of player England need if they want to be more expansive.

    The problem is in balance. Armitage is certainly an 'impact' player and would need to be paired with a big engine at 6 to do the hard graft (not that he shurks it, but he's a loose player not a tight one). Luckily Wood or Robshaw would both compliment him excellently, but then you're leaving Croft on the bench. A good kind of selection problem to have though.

    Croft is similar to Armitage in that he has a skill set no other player has, which makes him a real advantage potentially, but to have 2 such players in a back row would leave you a little exposed. Unless you wanted to use Robshaw at 8 but Morgan has been too good to ignore.

  • Comment number 74.

    @47 John - Wales' best ever finish in a World Cup was 3rd in '87, but your point on Gatland's success is well made - this certainly looks the best coaching team we've had in my lifetime, and they're getting the performances out of the team now

    As a Welshman I don't suppose many will care for my opinion on the England coach but I don't know what more Lancaster could do to earn the job - and he just seems like a thoroughly likeable bloke that has the respect of the dressing room. I won't be sad to see him replaced, I dread to think how much better England will be next year if he stays!

  • Comment number 75.

    #70 Coarsesportsman
    Thank you for your kind words. I never thought Back was too small and I don't think Steffon Armitage is too small, though others do. When he was at Irish (where I watch about half of my club rugby) he was consistently excellent, a good forager, a good carrier and an excellent engine. He's still only 26, and if he were playing in England I think he'd be well worth a look. I'm not sure though if he's good enough to arrange for his return to the UK.

    I have done some consultancy work at RFU headquarters (not on the new coach 'project'), and if I had my way I'd have a permanent set of gallows in the car park - there really is that much dead wood. Unfortunately Mr Ritchie was appointed by some of that dead wood, so he will have to tread carefully if he is to put in place a really professional organisation.

  • Comment number 76.

    #74 Mad_Dog2020
    We do care for your opinion, it would be interesting to compare notes. It has taken about five years for 'Chuckles' Gatland and his colleagues to get Wales into really good shape, about the same time as it took Sir Clive. Do you think that is how long it takes ? How much did the WRU help or hinder him in the process ?

  • Comment number 77.

    Something which seems to have passed almost unnoticed in all the excitement. On the telly Keith Wood stood up for the unfortunate Tom Court, pointing out that he's really a loose head. He then said that there are twelve foreign props playing for the four Irish provinces and suggested this might have something to do with the apparent lack of depth in the Irish front row. Nobody took it further, probably out of a desire not to kick a man/team when they're down.

  • Comment number 78.


    Your suggestions seem to me to be change for the sake of change.

    Why try and retrain Croft to play in positions where he has never really played and doesn't really have the skills for? You may as well play him on the wing in that case. Also playing him at 8 would mean dropping Morgan, who has given us enormous momentum carrying the ball.

    In an ideal world a scrapper at 7 would be great but I have a major reservation about that. This back row has come up against two of the best back rows around in France and Wales and more than held its own against them. Changing a player would probably upset the balance (Wood probably wouldn't) and I don't see the need yet.

  • Comment number 79.

    Congratulations England for winning....oh....wait......nothing (no matter how much you pat yourselves on the back)

  • Comment number 80.

    #71 on, some interesting (and educational) comments-thank you.

    It's good to be seeing positive discussion of England, suddenly the wealth of back-row talent is a problem....Wooo!

  • Comment number 81.

    79 P in VG, wouldn't go down that route, Grand Slams are not the ultimate goal, are they? The point is, winning 4 games (3 away) and running Wales close far exceeded expectations.

  • Comment number 82.

    #76 I dont know if you were being sarcastic! but for what its worth:

    Gatland won a GS in his first season, which appeared to be somewhat of a false dawn until a good World Cup (although yes, I take the point from my English friends it was only really Ireland we beat of any note) and now this Grand Slam. Too early to compare this team to SCW's England, and, as most posters are keen to point out, the acid test will be consistent wins/close performances with the SH teams (home and away) and of course consistency in challenging for the 6N year on year. I think I'm right in saying the years we haven't won the GS we've ended up fourth...

    As for England, will be interesting to see a) if they do keep Lancaster and b) whether this season is like Gats' first for Wales. If it is and England dont perform as well next year, especially with 3 home fixtures, the RFU's mettle will be tested, and at that point they'll have to keep the faith. WRU and the regions have done well by Gats I think, but a lot of our stars will be playing in France/English prem next year so time will tell if the implosion of the regions will have any effect...

    I understand Wales vs England at the Millenium is the final game of next year's tournament - what price a Grand Slam head to head?

  • Comment number 83.

    At 17:00 18th Mar 2012, rossignol wrote:

    79 P in VG, wouldn't go down that route, Grand Slams are not the ultimate goal, are they? The point is, winning 4 games (3 away) and running Wales close far exceeded expectations.
    I guess 4 wins & a gallant DEFEAT did exceed expectations for the richest union with the biggest playing pool in World mistake

  • Comment number 84.

    Well done and thank you gentlemen. That was the finest display of forward power I can remember since England ruled the world in 2001 to 3. Beautiful rugby for wet weather! A young rookie team against a good, tough Irish 8 with some genuine Lions prospects. O'Connell would not have made that much difference - I bet he was glad he wasn't there!

    Find of the championship - Ben Morgan. What a bear of a man! Deano with pace and skills!!! Watch out world he will get better. Just like the rest of this team. Who could lift the Webb Ellis Trophy, barring lots of injuries or loss of professionalism - all they are lacking is experience. There's skill and pace all over the park.

    This game will take Ireland a long, long time to forget - on Saint Paddies day too! Well done England, very well done.

    All we need now is the RFU blazers to leave Lancaster to it. Farrell can coach England part time, there's no need for him to leave Saracens. We don't need anyone else interfering or mercenary antipodean expertise either. We have won a World Cup and been runners up twice without the help of SH coaches.

    Just keep calm and carry on boys - ignore everyone else. They're just worried.

  • Comment number 85.

    After being in Dublin last year it was great to see the totaldemolition of the Irish Scrum. On balance we were closer to winning the grand slam this year! You cant win anything with young lads eh!?

  • Comment number 86.

    I think Farrell's done an excellent job - until this year I was one of those cursing RFU for missing the chance to get Edwards into the England set-up but they have landed on their feet. Which leads us to your point: if Edwards can do it part time for Wales, why not Farrell for England. While it has done Wales not harm, will Sarries look at Wasps and see how poorly they are doing at the moment and link the two...?

    Mad_Dog: I really hope Wales keep this trajectory. I remember the curve that SCW took for England - a solid if unexciting team that first learned how to win, then how to grind out victories and only then did they start putting all the fancy on-field moves toegther to open teams up. If that is Gatland's idea then I am all for it because I think one problem England has had (and Wales, to some extent) for some time is going for all the complex moves before the team is either skilled enough to do it or familiar enough with each other to be in the right place at the right time.

    Wales to go to Aus and win the series 2-1. England to go to SA and lose 3-0 but run them damned close in at least 2 games. Then England and Wales together developing over the next three years to both be in the top 5 and really be a force in RWC instead of there to make up the top-tier numbers.
    England -Wales final ...... we can but dream :)

  • Comment number 87.

    The one player who should be brought in as soon as possible is Christian Wade from Wasps who just looked outstanding before his injury, hopefully he's still playing Premiership Rugby next year.

    At the moment, I like how the team is being picked, that players are put under pressure for their places, but good performances are being rewarded by being kept in the side while bigger names are having to warm the bench till they get their opportunity. Hopefully this will spur Flood on for rest of the season, as I noticed a huge improvement in Youngs' game when he came on.

    Think a lot of people are being overly harsh on Barritt, he has done the basics extremely well this 6nations and I can't remember an English player being so mean in defense, he rather like Dusautoir, just makes tackle after tackle.

    Let the team evolve naturally as injuries are normally the main reason/opportunity for team changes instead of forcing players into slots

  • Comment number 88.

    P in VG
    I guess 4 wins & a gallant DEFEAT did exceed expectations for the richest union with the biggest playing pool in World mistake

    No context there then. They won something after the RWC debacle - respect. Try some. And the ultimate goal I mentioned, something to really crow about? Go on, have a guess.

  • Comment number 89.

    #82, thanks for a well balanced post. I think there are some similarities to the England 2003 team, in particular the importance of having an oustanding back row. Odd to see the welsh backline getting so many paludits, when it was the 6, 7 and 8 who were the key to the grand slam (again a similarity to the hysteria surrounding Wilkinson in 2003).
    Wales are a year ahead of England at the moment in terms of building a young side, whether Wales can go on to challenge the top 3, and whether England can follow in their footsteps remains to be seen.

    #83 What has money got to do with expectation levels. A bigger pool of players to select from is an advantage, but last time I checked, we were only allowed 15 on the pitch. England have brought in a lot of new players, many in key positions, and it will take a while to build them into a team, 4 from 5 is a decent start.

    We get that Wales won a Grand Slam, and that you are wetting youself with excitement, now run along and leave the grown-ups to talk rugby.

  • Comment number 90.

    Interesting comments on two issues, firstly who should be head coach and secondly, who should new coach pick in the back row?

    I think Lancaster should be kept, but that is personal opinion. What I think is important is that whoever comes in as coach follows the structure that Lancaster has had in place. I don't know what the actual definition of the coaching roles are but Rowntree, Farrell and Lancaster have worked well. Lancaster less hands on, seeing the big picture. Farrell offering his league experience for the defence - 2 man tackles, great shape. Rowntree focusing on scrums but doing extra work with the forwards. It seems to me that additional coaches would just confuse what seems to have been 3 complimentary selections. I concede maybe a specialist attacks coach may be beneficial but attack coaching requires a team to have experience of timing and each other - one player manipulating a defender in such a way that another player has a gap to come through. This England set-up after 8 weeks wont really have had a chance to achieve this. I think from reading Jonny Wilkinsons autobiography that having a specialist kicking coach was as much a confidence thing for Wilko (not a criticism, he performed at world cups under intense pressure to bring home the goods) but perhaps not a necessity for an international coaching set up.

    Secondly, the back row. Croft is not an out and out 6, but neither is Robshaw an out and out 7. I personally think that the two have worked well on opposing flanks, Croft offering something in the loose; relentless support running, often first to rucks and terrific lineout work. Robshaw works for 80 minutes in the tight, I didn't see him miss a tackle all tournament. I think the concern for a "7" may be misplaced as earlier comments have stated how Cole has won turnover ball at rucks so do England need to rely on a 7 to do that?

    All I can say is I look forward to the SA tour and seeing how the players perform there.

  • Comment number 91.

    I think there will be a very healthy rivalry between two very talented young teams (England and Wales) for a few years to come.

    I would like to compliment Declan Kidney - with one prop off injured, one more 'injury' would have resulted in uncontested scrums. Australia did descend to that level once, ireland did not and good on 'em for sticking with it albeit whilst taking a good hiding

  • Comment number 92.

    One thing I haven't seen mentioned, is that there seemed to be an accusation of gouging or biting in the first half - the ref claimed he didn't see anything, does anybody have any idea what happened, or was alleged to have happened.

    As Brian Moore said at the time, if an England player was guilty of gouging, they should be looking at a long ban. Equally if it was a false claim, then there should be a ban the other way - the last thing rugby needs is players throwing false accusations around. Hopefully it was just some form of accidental contact (neither of the other possibilities are pleasant), but it would be interesting to know what actually happened.

    #77 that is an interesting point about the props. I don't know how accurate the comment about 12 overseas props is (or how many irish qualified props are playing at a high level), but the far bigger issue was the fact that Court is a loosehead. Another example of why props who can play both side of the scrum are so prized - part of what made Jason Leonard a legend, and possibly why England persist with Stevens on the bench. He is not good enough to start a test match at LH, but is capable of doing a job there.
    If Ireland do have a shortage of props, then that could be a downside of a regional game

    In fairness to Court, the Irish scrum was already under huge pressure before he came on, and the game had a ref who was actually attempting to ref the scrum properly, rather than going for the traditional approach of penalising each team in turn.

  • Comment number 93.

    #91 you are right, Ireland could easily have gone to uncontested scrums - something Wasps have done several times in the past. We did go to uncontested scrums against Australia, but from memory it was only while one prop was in the bin - at the time there was a lot of discussion about whether in that situation a different player should go to the bin in place of the binned player in order to allow the scrum to continue.
    Ireland could also have gone for turning the hit into a mess - in that situation some refs start to give penalties in both directions. Credit t them for actually trying to keep going.

  • Comment number 94.

    It seems pretty obvious that England have come on leaps and bounds under Lancaster. He also strikes me as a genuine, decent bloke from his interviews. He's done a terrific job with a young squad of players, few of whom you'd describe as "world class" in comparison to others who play in their respective positions but he's made them gel and execute his game plan brilliantly well. He also seems to have restored a bit of pride in the shirt. All of which makes me think that the RFU would be mad not to appoint him...which may be his undoing, because over recent years the RFU have demonstrated very little sanity in its affairs.

    I'm a (very happy at the time of writing) Welshman and, whilst I always tease my English mates that they should "bring back Johnson," even I think it would be ridiculous if Lancaster doesn't get the job. Seriously, what more could he have done?

  • Comment number 95.

    George Ford!! Easily the best/most Gifted english number 10 playing the game at the moment. IRB young player of the year last year. Farrell's jersey to lose now by the looks of things.

  • Comment number 96.

    The "new " England battered the opposition into submission with a powerful scrum performance and an assured goal kicking display. The poor conditions were matched by the poor English backline.I could be referring to any number of games in English rugby's long past but this was yesterday against the hapless Irish. Stuart Lancaster has done a fantastic job with England, he has managed to convince  most people that we are playing a different, more attractive, style of rugby. Last year we scored 13 tries, this year a return of 8 including a penalty try and two charge downs is deemed to be progress.
    The media is at the heart of this, constantly referring to the "debacle" of  the World Cup and generally taking the opportunity to stick the boot into Martin Johnson's England at any opportunity. Stuart Lancaster is vastly more media friendly than the broody glowering Johnson. Even the Welsh, Scots and Irish fans can't build up any antipathy towards Lancaster with anything like their usual venom. Stephen Ferris tried to stoke the fire with a few "arrogant English" claims but his comments lacked any real bite.
    Perception is,of course, everything. I couldn't help wondering what the reaction would have been if England had produced a t-shirt announcing their latest Grand Slam at the final whistle in the way Wales did yesterday. Welshmen will no doubt point out that we may have to wait a long while to find out.
    Back to Lancaster and you can't help but be impressed by the discipline he has instilled in this English squad. He has managed to get Chris Ashton to stop doing that ridiculous swallow dive every time he scores. In fact he has managed to get Chris Ashton to stop doing anything at all. He also handled Danny Care with sensitivity and after Care's first brush with the law on a drink related matter had a quiet word with him. A second, much more serious, offence followed whereupon Lancaster banned him for the entire 6 Nations and had another word with him. I think the word was idiot. A third alcohol related incident and Lancaster was left to reflect on Care in the community.
    I sincerely hope that Lancaster gets the job and continues with his oft quoted "journey" towards 2015. I also hope that he is true to his word and bloods some of the young talent available to him. Loyalty and continuity of selection are admirable traits in a coach but identifying and developing talent are even more important. 

  • Comment number 97.


    Give the lad a chance to play some rugby first. Don't forget a certain Mr Cipriani.

  • Comment number 98.

    Firstly well done England and as much as it rips my innards out to even contemplate it, well done Wales...

    However having just watched Callum clarke deliberately try and snap Rob Hawkins arm off after the whistle i the LV cup final, it does raise the whole foul play issue.

    If an English player did bite someone then nothing more than a massive ban will do.

    Callum Clarke deserves at least a year - for those who didn't see it look at the footage 20:15 on the match clock. It doesn't look like any of the officials caught it but it was a utter disgrace.

  • Comment number 99.

    Plenty of positives for England and the team is clearly moving in the right direction.

    Farrell's overall had a great tournament, as did Morgan, and Tulangi, there three quality players that really made a difference and need to stay fit I feel for England team to tick.

    The difference was quite plain to see from the first two games to the others.

    The honeymoon period is over now and whilst this team will only get better the more it plays together, they've had the luxury of not being able to be analysed as nobody most of the players and combinations etc were new.

    There's also now the pressure of expectation moving forward after a very good six nations campaign - if England can continue now that everybody expects not - well if we win great but its a new young side etc and with being studied and analysed to death, then we'll know that this team is going to be a strong outfit.

    England had as good a six nations as they would have hoped for, for the players its a shame that will go down in history and always be remembered and have the black mark against their names in the record books, as the players that let Wales make history and achieve a Triple Crown in Twickenham for the first time ever and go on to a GS.

    Overall though a win away in France and a comprehensive victory over Ireland shows big potential moving forward, interesting to see moving forward.

    S Africa, like Australia away, are two huge tests for these two young, promising sides.

  • Comment number 100.

    @ 97 Cipriani a massive talent wasted because there was no one to keep him grounded. Ford on the other hand looks like a very grounded individual with the talent to boot,Farrell will definately develop as a playmaker but for me Ford has all the attributes....remind me a bit of a young Dan Carter.


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