As the final whistle blew in Paris last weekend, a jubilant and passionate Stuart Lancaster was seen springing to his feet and yelling, “Get in!”. As he did so, journalists, fans and the Twitterati alike were all producing versions of the same sentence. Surely the RFU have to appoint Lancaster as the full-time coach now?
Over the last week I have spoken to journalists, players and fans, all of whom would like to see Lancaster given the role long-term. However, most of them believe that the RFU will still appoint Nick Mallett, the only other apparent contender. Does this mean that the RFU are still out of touch with what the country wants? Why would they go against the sway of public emotion?
When Stuart Lancaster took on the interim role, he was contracted to step down at the end of the Six Nations. This made no difference to his approach, one that was set out quite clearly in an ‘off-the-record’ briefing at West Park, Leeds as he explained himself to the media. He made it clear that he intended to go back to basics with the aim of instilling more humility and pride in those players hoping to pull on the white jersey and the red rose. The fact that the first training camp would be at this grassroots club and not in Portugal as previously, underlined this statement.
As the axe swung on a few of the old guard and players were brought in on form and talent, the atmosphere within the England camp and the RFU began to change. The egos began to fade away, the smiles were beginning to return and blow me down, if the media were not even made more welcome! The realisation struck on what Lancaster had been driving at – he wanted England to be a rugby club.
With the privilege I have of going to Pennyhill Park on a weekly basis to interview the England players, I can report that the cohesive atmosphere within camp feels markedly different to that felt prior to the Rugby World Cup. These boys genuinely like each other and want each other to succeed – the banter is affectionate, not needled. Would this continue under Mallett?
It may seem a strange question to pose but with Lancaster, the players have grown under a new captain in Robshaw, and would do anything for their coach; perhaps seen somewhat unfairly as a plucky underdog giving it his best shot – we all know SL is more than that. But if Mallett arrives over the summer, it’s not hard to imagine that some of the strutting, preening and posturing might return as players look to try and impress their new boss, maybe even at the expense of relations with their teammates.
Lancaster does not have top level international experience, or at least he didnt until now – but finishing second in the Six Nations table would be a magnificent achievement for a new side under a new coach. But will we still back him if we come back from South Africa without a test win under our belts? And what if we dont beat any Southern Hemisphere opponents in the autumn apart from Fiji? Will we be wondering if we need a more established coach with international credentials then?
These are all questions the RFU’s panel will be looking at, one that includes Conor O’Shea, Rob Andrew, Richard Hill & Ian McGeechan, aswell as Ian Ritchie the new chief executive. I dont think I’d be angling to step into their shoes.
by Nick Heath