Less that two weeks after England defeated Ireland at Twickenham, Stuart Lancaster was back at the ground for the RFU to confirm he would be head coach until 2016. There perhaps has been in the recent weeks a sense of an inevitability amongst those in the stands and those in the media that Lancaster would have to be appointed, essentially on the back of the wins in Paris and against Ireland.
Having done enough to impress Ian Ritchie, the advisers, the committee and the board, Lancaster will now be in charge until the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Nick Mallett’s wealth of experience dwarfs that of the new England coach, but the work he has done in unifying a group of largely new players to Test rugby is exemplary. To have undone that hard work by appointing Mallett might have meant the Six Nations had been a waste of time.
What has become clear over the last few days is that the RFU do not feel they are walking into the same bear-trap as with Martin Johnson. Lancaster’s coaching experience may be little, but at least there is some basis from which to work. His clarity of communication and strong relationship with his players is a world away from the World Cup disintegration.
What leaves you encouraged is the hunger to move forward. The last eight weeks have been all about laying the foundations to progress, but over the next seven games, if England can win five of those then it will be hard to criticise the new regime. By bringing in Wayne Smith, they would go some way to quelling the current hissing about a lack of key international experience after his 8 years with the All Blacks.
Those seven matches see England take on South Africa four times, world champions New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. Never has turning Twickenham into a fortress mattered more than now in the build-up to a World Cup on home soil. More immediately, to pick up a first away win in South Africa since 2000 would be enormous, let alone if England won the series. Whatever the result, there is little doubt that no detail will have not been thoroughly examined by Lancaster. England feel as though they are in good hands. If they keep winning, their new coach’s rise to the top will be truly remarkable.
by Ben Coles
Video courtesy of Rugby Media