Why the RFU might have wished England had lost against France

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

7 thoughts on “Why the RFU might have wished England had lost against France

  1. I think that this is why they all gat paid huge amounts of money. They have to make the right decision for England whatever the public want – and actually what the public wants is success! Appointing either coach and not winning will therefore be the wrong thing to do!

    Maybe in the future all coaches shortlisted should have an extended interview like Lancaster just has and see how they do. Personally when I appoint members of staff, if they come into the office and fit, I generally know that they will work. Lancaster seems to me to have exceeded all expectations in his extended job interview and seems to fit well into the role and therefore I’d appoint him (because the grass isn’t always greener) but what do I know!

  2. Partly agree with Staggy – but surely there are two different remits here- interim coach with a short term objective for a limited stage and a long term objective for world platform – in my very limited experience of employing folk I would argue you need to match skill sets to defined objectives…

  3. Good point Stimmy,

    I would first like to say that I think SL has done an excellent jobm but he has had no pressure, England were not expected to win. For the first time in a long time the fans expectations were realistic and that helped. He also could choose the players he wanted and if it went wrong he was leaving anyway. IF he get the full-time job thing would be different.

    I’m not saying he wouldn’t cope, he might, but I would still hold his lack of experience against him. People have said he is good with the press, but to be good with the press while doing a part-ime gig and winning isn’t very challenging.

    I like Mallet, I think he did a good job with Italy, limited by his lack of resources and lack of faith by the Italian RFU. He has also coached a major uniion, he is use to dealing with the politics and pressure that go with that. His neccissity to spend time in SA could be a problem and to be fair he wouldn’t be my first choice.

    But the RFU can’t maka a decision on public popularity contest. They did that last time an it didn’t go so well.

  4. Nice article Nick.

    Churchill won the war but wasn’t deemed to be the best man to lead the recovery. Lancaster has led the recovery brilliantly, is he the man to win the war?

    Well coached and hard working English rugby clubs have been regularly stuffed by Irish provinces. Today the coaching intellect will be tested, Ireland are unlikely to be defeated through endeavour alone. A good performance, win or lose, with good strategy and tactics (not just graft) then the coaching team has passed another major exam and should stay. If the post match write ups are talking about Irish dominated breakdowns and turnovers through choke tackles then limitations of the coaching team may have been exposed.

    In this scenario selection decision becomes about risk, what is the likelihood of losing the spirit, momentum and unity Lancaster has bought if he is no longer involved? I don’t think the RFU will want this risk. How stupid would they look with Lancaster watching from the sidelines if we regress back towards RWC vintage England? So I think they would want Mallett in with Lancaster as assistant and future successor. Would they gel? Who knows but if it works it the combination of the experience and intellect with someone who can really motivate the players could be a great one.

  5. I think experience is only part of the story. Yes Lancaster has done well but what is his vision going fwd. What coaches will he bring on board? Will his lack of profile prevent him from recruiting the best. How much of a loss will Andy Farrell be? How do we know that Farrell has not been the catalyst with Lancaster the lucky recipient? These questions will surely have been raised in the interview but which fans and media alike will not be privy too. Hopefully whoever the RFU picks they will explain why the decision was made. Until then I wish the likes of Cleary and Hayward in the Telegraph would pipe down and not prejudge the decision.

  6. Lancaster must stay – and so must Rowntree. I don’t see the loss of Andy Farrell as too significant, as (France aside) England haven’t looked too menacing out wide. Maybe bring back Ashton as Backs coach?

    As a fat old prop I took great delight today in England’s demonstration of why the scrum remains a key part of the game. I don’t think I’ve seen the like in an International match.

  7. I don’t disagree with anything you say here Nick, but it does bring a question to the forefront of my mind – why does everyone seems to think Nick Mallett will be any more successful than Stuart Lancaster?

    Or are we back into that age and experience rubbish again?

    The massively undercapped English side finished ahead of the massively over capped French and Irish sides – so I guess the number of caps must be crucial to any side!

    If England don’t win any of the games against South Africa the ‘tabloid’ nonsense that has infiltrated Rugby will get hot under the collar whether it is Mallett or Lancaster as head coach!

    If you are an England fan then you want your team to be number one or two in the world in just over 3 years time and them going on to contest the next World Cup final.

    Will they lose a few matches in the process? Without a doubt!

    Can England under Lancaster become number one or two in the world and contest the World Cup final? I think so!

    And I am a Welsh fan saying that!

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