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Lancaster is a welcome breath of fresh air

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Alastair Eykyn | 14:55 UK time, Friday, 9 December 2011

There was a very different feel to Twickenham on Thursday. There were smiles, there was laughter, there was genuine warmth between England's new coaching staff and members of the media. It was a most welcome change.

Levity has been in short supply at the Rugby Football Union recently. So too, integrity and straight talking - which made Stuart Lancaster's arrival at the top table all the more significant. England's new interim head coach was courteous, engaging, passionate and organised.

He came across as highly motivated, and fully across his brief. Time - and results - will reveal whether he is up to the job.

Lancaster has been parachuted into the role to breathe life back into English rugby. He spoke of the need to select players not only of talent, but of character; of the need "to be the best, and beat the best". He talked tough on discipline. "Behaviour shapes performance," he said.


Stuart Lancaster (centre) poses with coaching staff Andy Farrell (right) and Graham Rowntree (left). Photo: Getty  

The message was clear. He will not stand for the kind of indiscretions that sullied the recent World Cup campaign in New Zealand.

The new head man reiterated time and again the need to get the culture right, to bring pride back to the Red Rose, and to play a brand of rugby that will thrill and entertain.

He spoke warmly of his "dream team" of fellow coaches, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell.

Perhaps most significantly, each of the coaching trio echoed a philosophy of building towards the next World Cup in 2015.

The "one game at a time" mantra will be abandoned, in search of a trusted band of brothers and a recognised game plan for the next four years.

All of which is admirable and sensible. Actually making it happen will prove the difficult bit - Martin Johnson will testify to that.

Lancaster and his cohorts will have quite a job in helping the players to draw a line under the damaging events in New Zealand, and indeed the subsequent fall-out from the leaked reports. The episode has left scars that will take some time to heal.

So is Stuart Lancaster the right man for the job? He seems to be a good man for this particular job. In all likelihood, he will make way for a bigger hitter in the summer.

Nick Mallett and Wayne Smith are at the top of the RFU's most wanted list, and they will almost certainly demand their own men around them. Perhaps the permanent job might come with a proviso that the head coach must hire an Englishman (or several).

That remains to be seen. Most experienced international coaches would insist on choosing their own backroom staff.

There are a number of factors weighing in Lancaster's favour. A fresh sheet of paper is one of them.

He can choose his own players, mould his own leadership group, adapt a style all of his own. He is not beholden to the previous regime, nor indeed the future one.

He has an unrivalled knowledge of the youngsters in the English system, having coached them through the Academy and the Saxons set-up.

He is well-liked, and appears to have the respect of the players. You sense the English rugby public will give him a fair hearing too.

For Lancaster, the situation is win-win. Any success he enjoys will be seen as something of a bonus, given the circumstances.

He has a huge number of excellent players to choose from. He can enhance his longer-term prospects enormously over the next few months.

In his own mind, he will no doubt be determined to make it as hard as he can for the bosses at Twickenham to push him to one side, once the Six Nations Championship is over. And so he should. They all should.

Lancaster's critics will rightly point to a lack of top-level experience and international clout.

He was director of rugby at Leeds, where he dragged the club back to the top flight after relegation, only to oversee their subsequent fall through the trapdoor the following season.

His time with the Saxons and England age-groups has been nothing but successful, but arguably with the resources - both playing and financial - there would be no excuse for failure. He is unproven in the rarefied air of Test rugby.

The pressures, the quality of the opposition, and the scrutiny are in an altogether different league to anything he will have experienced.

Lancaster may fail. He might be exposed as a selector, and indeed as a rookie international head coach.

But there is every chance of a brighter future for England under this low-profile, former PE teacher.

As a passionate rugby man who has waited all his career for this opportunity, what is clear is that Stuart Lancaster will do everything in his powers to make a success of it. And that is all anyone could ask.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am pleased that Stuart has been given his chance.I know him well from his teaching days in Wakefield and am sure he will prove himself to be a quality coach at the highest level and put to bed that football based theory that you have had to have played at the highest level to be able to coach at the highest level.He will have the respect of the players and will prove to be both an enlightened as well as pragmatic coach.Good luck Stuart!

  • Comment number 2.

    Spot on interim appointment. A new coach coming in next year needs to know what is at his disposal, and Lancaster will show them. It'll be great to watch some of the youngsters given a chance. It's been very frustrating for the fans seeing young players who won us the Six Nations relegated to bit part roles. I'm happy with the building approach, and am more interested in the manner of the performances than the results. Good luck to the three of them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Will be really interesting to see how this pans out. England could have/should have done much better at the world cup, and it's not hard to imagine that with some tinkering the squad could pull off an impressive 6 nations. Unfortunatley i think the RFU will set a course to get their man come what may and Stuart will only be allowed to drive the bus temporarily, regardless of how the team plays. Question then will be whether it makes sense for SL to find a decent Club position home or abroad to broaden his experience, or go back to the Saxons. Personally, i'd love to see him and/or some of the other prospective future england coaches spend some time coaching in a Super 15 environment almost as a pre-requisite for being considered.

    Maybe this process of finding a new coach is an opportunity for the RFU to define some key requirments for the role that all future coaches can be assessed against in terms of depth and breadth of experience. This can only help the likes of SL, JM etc benchmark themselves and manage their career progression accordingly. Maybe will also take away forever the opportunity to make another unsubstantiated MJ type appointment.

    The RFU could appoint someone like Mallet, but then say to the likes of Shaun Edwards, Jim Mallender, Stuart Lancaster that you have 3-4 years to gain X,Y,Z experience because you'll all be in the frame next time. Whichever one does the most to improve themselves should then be the front runner. Has to be better than just scrabbling around for whichever big name ex-coach is available and can be 'pursuaded' to come to england.

  • Comment number 4.

    Andy Farrell seems to have flown in under the radar as I haven't heard him mentioned by anyone in the last few weeks. What are his coaching credentials - I'm not knocking the man - just asking.

  • Comment number 5.

    Andy Farrell is head coach at Sarries and moved into that role from his previous role at Sarries as the Skills coach for Sarries.

    Personally although the RFU see the Head Coaches role as a full time position, I'd much prefer his deputies, to be part time and to be highly involved in the club scene (Although I'm sure there are rules against this).

    Think the idea of getting Farrell on board is a very good idea. Hopefully Lancaster & Farrell go with the ideas/selections which have made the Saxons such an effective team over the last few seasons and not just think about taking the same players as previously and putting some fresh life into them

  • Comment number 6.

    Hope the guy does well - as English rugby is so stale, it needs new blood, and someone who can take risks.

    Arsene Wenger shows that you don't have to be an ex-top flight player to succeed, on the contrary, they normally aren't successful at both.

    New attitude, players (new or existing) that embrace it as a means of getting in to the squad, and a new approach to playing (the ball is my friend - keep it and play with it) are all high on his priorities, and I hope for the sake of Rugby that he is allowed to do that.

  • Comment number 7.

    Worth looking at a few other coaches to see the dangers:

    Marc Lievremont was similarly promoted because he knew the young and emerging players. In his first 18 months he blooded many new players and invigorated a squad. Yet he never left that initial mode, and after 4 years he still didn't know who his best team was. He alienated some of his best players (Harinordaquay - probably the best no8 in the world not picked for nearly 2 years) simply because he wouldn't listen to experience. Good start, woeful end.

    AVB - brought in to change style and squad. Started OK, but has players who wont/cant do what is expected of him. Rather than take some losses for long term gain, they are now going backwards as a team. Winning in the short term, but making long term change to personnel and style ever more difficult.

    Martin Jonhson - tremendously loyal and terribly stubborn. Brilliant qualities as a player, but perhaps less so in a manager. He needed to replace both players and coaches but stayed loyal to what he knew. Ultimately is no longer England manager because he wasn't ruthless with those he had trusted, and whose standards were not as high as his own.

    Arsene Wenger - ruthless at moving on players when they no longer serve the team or have the right attitude. So many future stars (eg David Bentley, Jermaine Pennant) were seen to have wrong attitude and so no matter how talented wouldn't make it long term. However, you always have to have an emergency backup in case things goes against you. He plans for the best, but fails to plan for the worst.

    So, learn from these four, and Mr Lancaster could do Rugby a huge service, and enable England to win the odd thing again, which given the number of players they have, should be the norm, not the exception.

  • Comment number 8.

    Farrell may have to un-involve himself with selection of the flyhalf. He might have a family conflict of interest.

    Farrell can also show the team directly how to pass a rugby ball. Though I imagine the new centre pairing will be able to do that.

  • Comment number 9.

    I hope the RFU hold fire over appointing a new head coach and beta-test these three first. A belting six nations from England and Lancaster, Farrell and Rowntree should be given the chance to stick around for a while longer. Until after the next world cup, for example.

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you Viewfromverve.
    I knew he was as sarries - i didn't know as head coach

  • Comment number 11.

    This is an opportunity for Lancaster to pick a Six Nations squad that can go on to challenge at the next World Cup in 4 years time.

    I hope that means ditching some of the old guard (Tindall, Easter, Deacon, Wilkinson, Cueto, Thompson, Sheridan etc) whilst retaining some experience in the form of England's more "future-proof" stars (Foden, Ashton, Tuilagi, Flood, Youngs, Croft, Woods, Lawes, Cole, Corbisiero, Hartley etc) - there's a core group of players that can help smooth the transition.

    Although many are probably Saxon-bound, some of the new faces could include Marler, Doran-Jones, Robshaw, Johnson, Attwood, Sharples, Twelvetrees, Barritt, Turner-Hall, Trinder, Homer, Morgan, Abendanon and even Cipriani (although arguably Lamb and Farrell are ahead of him on current form).

  • Comment number 12.

    I've just watched / listened to the interviews with Stuart Lancaster on your site. I don't think his ability was in question - just look at the Saxons to see that - but how refreshing to see someone involved with the national game that has common sense, an open mind, an apparent degree of integrity and a professional demeanour with the press. I think the same could be said of his two coaches too. If these guys start to make the team click, regardless of whether we win the six nations or not, the RFU could do a lot worse than put their faith in them to take us to 2015. I almost feel optimistic again...

  • Comment number 13.

    At the risk of being shot down in flames, and acknowledging his miserable last 12 months, why have people stopped talking about Mathew Tait? Form is temporary but class is permanent and those that know believe he is the most naturally gifted English threequarter since a certain D Duckham. I suppose I show my age with that comment - but he is also a thoroughly nice bloke too!

  • Comment number 14.

    good call

    see it for what it is though

    i hope he makes some bold (peter taylor esq) decisions based on the next 4 years rather than succumbing to the temptation of picking an overly tried and tested 15 - lets face it, they were tested and it werent good enough.

    so here you Mr lancaster:

    cole, hartley, marler, lawes, attwood, croft, wood, robshaw, youngs, flood, ashton, farrell, tuilagi, wade, foden

    thats still only 6 changes from england's previous best 15 anyway

    (and please don't pick deacon again...ever)

  • Comment number 15.

    thewingcommander - a perfect mix with Tuilagi?

  • Comment number 16.

    "At the risk of being shot down in flames, and acknowledging his miserable last 12 months, why have people stopped talking about Mathew Tait? "

    'cos he's barely played any rugby in the last 2 years and isn't fit now?

    Tait needs A LOT of game time to force his way back into contention. He hasn't played for Leicester since October, and has only 2 starts this season.

    Nowhere near the squad at present.

  • Comment number 17.

    Good luck to Stuart Lancaster.

    As an England fan all I want to see is the form players playing and pride in the shirt. And please, no more stuff it up your jumper rugby.

    Good call on Deacon @ 14. Time also for Tindall to retire from International rugby - still an England hero in my eyes for 2003.

  • Comment number 18.

    Delighted to see we have got rid of the Tigers coterie in the old England set up (except Rowntree of course who doesn't count because, well actually he might be good at his job) and installed a backs coach from the scintillating prolific try scoring Saracens. Look forward to seeing England's back line ripping apart their Six Nations opponents....

  • Comment number 19.

    By a mixture of incompetance and prejudice, the blazers at Twickers have "managed" to miss Shuan Edwards twice. Now that Andy Farrell is on board they have the possibility of playing some proper rugby and even have a chance at the six nations. Can it last until the next World Cup? What a pity if it ends up as Edwards v Farrell when it should be the two of them together.

  • Comment number 20.

    You guys will never learn! You've picked another turkey in Farrell! Can anyone explain what on earth he has done in the game of rugby union to merit such a post?
    The obsession with rugby league is embarrasing. Other than Jason Robinson who would have made it in any form of contact/spacial awareness sport - what do they bring?

    Stodge, stodge and more stodge. Wales have the sharp ideas as usual - get yer crash bang wallop man in as a defensive coach to negate the uniform approach of most others.

    I know it's only interim but it's highly symbolic of the english mentality.

  • Comment number 21.

    Edwards vs Farrell for the England RU top job? Let nobody criticise Rugby League again!

  • Comment number 22.


    Hope you have to eat your words, that's a very presumptuous statement you have made, lets see what Farrell does before condemning him. I hope we don't go down the route of choke tackling to win the ball like the Irish do! Be interesting also to see how Ireland do without O'Driscoll.

  • Comment number 23.

    English rugby, you couldn't make it up. Previous coaching unit criticised for lack of top level coaching experience (lacking across the board), something repeated in the two previous coaching units before them.

    The RFU then appoint a guy whose top level coaching CV shows one Premiership relegation out of one Premiership season, no European club experience and Development level international experience. Add in a backs coach with one full season at assistant level and a potentially brand new 'good-club-player' captain (presuming Robshaw) and England could very well do the impossible and regress from their RWC performances!

    Astonishing to see so many positive comments given the RFU have yet again taken the fans for mugs and moved only to maintain their corporate status quo.

    Roll on the 6N!

  • Comment number 24.

    England are the largest and most powerful rugby nation on earth particularly in player numbers and in financial terms . If they could find someone to manage them well and find the right overseas players that want to play for them to fill any gaps in the back line (an inherent problem for English born players who are not good at back play) -They should be able to set up a new rugby world order - with them playing the winner of a World Cup qualifying tournament (a bit like wimbledon up untill the 20's).
    This could be held a Twickers and half a half time show like the Superbowl.
    with all the X factor stars.

  • Comment number 25.

    Come on Lancaster bomber. You look like the kind of guy England need to win the the Grand Slam at the Six Nations - which is still the best tournament in the world. The World Cup is a farce anyway the best teams never win it.

  • Comment number 26.

    Something very different about that picture of "the England 3" on the site - a smile...well a half-grimmace from Rowntree but I'll forgive him being a front-rower.

    With a good TEAM MANAGER above them this set up could work wonders but time will tell. It's a shame the first test will be a 6N so soon. A summer tour away from the limelight would have IMHO been better.

  • Comment number 27.

    I like what he did with the Saxons and am hoping to see the introduction of some of the outstanding talents from that squad to the full England squad. He sounds like an sensible individual and the appointment of Andy Farrell could be inspiring (if he can teach the backs to pass he'll be worth his salary).

  • Comment number 28.

    Losing the "one game at a time", "a win is a win" mentality is to be cheered and now is exactly the right time to do that in my opinion.

    It doesn't mean we move away from our strengths, but it sure does mean we will have weaknesses exposed that need to be worked on.

    "Discipline", "Playing heads up rugby" and "Playing to the referee" are mantras that we have heard in recent years. For my money we need *intelligence* on and off the pitch. And that is in the selection not the preparation.

    "Fitness", "Gym Freaks" and "Games won in the last 20 minutes" are other mantras we hear. For my money of course we need professionalism in preparation, but that is only ever going to make the difference if we have solid execution and flair. And that is about coaching and training as well as selection.

    I don't think Martin Johnson would disagree with any of that, but in the end it is the players and their preparation that makes the difference. We clearly got the emphasis wrong in the past, but may get it wrong going forward too.

    Success is built upon failure.

    The press more than the fans/supporters need to get behind this and accept we are building and looking to get better, but will they?

    From a Fan -- Good Luck guys!

  • Comment number 29.

    if the way Saracens play under Farrell is anything to go by, we are in for a horrible 6 Nations...

  • Comment number 30.

    I wish this new coaching triumvirate every success. Quick ball please! So, who's England's specialist 7 to be? Who's the next Neil Back? Any ideas?

  • Comment number 31.

    I cant help feeling the upcoming six nations will be a waste of time, from England's point of view. Why is this gent in charge? Will he really do a better job then Martin Johnson, who won the competition last year? Everybody knows a long term appointment will be made in the spring. The players will know this as well, and will lose their edge. A mind boggling sequence of events. Is the cure really better then the so called disease? I doubt it.

  • Comment number 32.

    Not really had time to read everyone's comments so I might be repeating what has been said before!

    I can't understand the fuss. Lancaster has proven himself as a successful coach at the reserve international level. Yet people are questioning him right left and centre. However, when MJ was appointed he had no coaching experience whatsoever. Lancaster is not an especially risky appointment, he is a sensible and logical one.

    This new set up also leads us to the conclusion that the other remaining coaches (besides Rountree) have been effectively sacked. They are 'in discussions' no doubt that means they are negotiating a severance package.

    The MJ reign was a disastrous mistake, which was evident from the very start. One unconvincing 6N win should not blind people to the terrible state of the England team over the past 8 years. In my opinion MJ only picked the players he did, especially those who formed the backbone of this successful team: Ashton, Flood and Youngs, because he was forced by circumstances and injuries to others. He stumbled across this team and he showed what he thought of his own selections by dropping Flood for Wilkinson at the WC, a decision that defied all logic and also threw off the dynamics of the team. The shambles at the WC was more what England were actually like than the winners of the 6N. That team was not MJ's first choice. He was hugely conservative and picked players he knew or on reputation. He liked solid journeymen, good but without the spark and vision to compete at the top table (Borthwick, etc).

    I would also argue that England under MJ never addressed the key weakness of the team: centres. He continued to pick Tindall, when he was clearly another not up to the job (although I think he has been excessively harshly treated by the RFU, a simple small fine and a dignified retirement would have been fairer). Along with this he had no idea who to partner him with. He stumbled upon Tuilagi like he did Ashton, etc but did not really know how to use him.

    Basically I would characterise MJ as having no real idea who his best team was, being unable to pick out the correct players for international play. He was overly conservative and set up his teams to counteract the opposition, not to attack. Attack was what we did when the opposition coughed up possession due to our tackling. We only gelled when he put out a team he clearly did not want. Lancaster has faced all these dilemas already, albeit at a slightly lower level but he has the experience and know-how that MJ missed.

    Still think the RFU have already decided to hire Nick Mallett and some other coaches with Rountree retained but Lancaster and Farrell out after the 6N.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    To PaddyDublin:

    Lancaster/Farrel might not have international experience but then look at Ireland's track record. After the unsuccessful spell under Gatland you went to O'Sullivan, who despite having no international experience did quite well because he knew the players (although he did spend 7 years as the only man in the world who though Girvan Dempsey was a better ful-back than Geordan Murphy). After that you went for Kidney - again no experience but knew the bulk of the team from Munster.

    Isn't that what England are doing with Lancaster ? He knows at least half of the current squad through SUCCESSFULLY coaching the saxons and from the same format knows the players that he is likely to bring in (Robshaw, Jordan T-H, Attwood etc.). He has the respect of the players depsite not being a world class player himself - just the same as O'Sullivan and Kidney. Farrell is the same. Never cut it as a player in union but won the premiership as a coach and comes from the same 'idea school' as Shaun Edwards (I think you gave him credit in your speech)

    I am not having a go at Ireland because both O'Sullivan/Kidney did/are doing well, at least partially down to the attributes I have mentioned. So before you knock Englands set-up have a look at your own - very similar !

    I just hope that if he has a good 6N the RFU keep him on. I don't want an expensive import. I want an Englishman who knows what it means to wear the rose and has the respect of the players - a bit like MJ with coaching experience. Lancaster, Farrell and Rowntree all fit that bill.

    Put in a good team manager ( Mark Evans, Peter Wheeler, Nigel Melville or the like )above them to deal with the media etc. so the coaches are left to get on with it and that would be a really good set up to build to RWC 2015.

  • Comment number 35.

    Certainly great to see a fresh set of faces and positive posts.

    However, unless he has some stunning results, I have no doubt 4 or 5 games in everyone will be baying for his replacement just like every other coach that has headed an England Rugby or Soccer team.

    Enjoy it while you can Lancaster.


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