Stuart Lancaster has embarked upon what can only be described as the ultimate restoration project, as he sets about radically overhauling the culture of England Rugby and injecting new life into an organisation exposed to be at an all time low by the World Cup reports.
The appointment of an interim coach was always set to require drastic change following in-depth review, resignations and restructures but the leaked World Cup reports revealed internal damage far worse than ever imaginable from the outside; damage which could prove irreparable without rapid response.
From day one of his appointment Lancaster revealed no less than a one man mission to re-ignite a sporting culture which rests on discipline and respect, values which have long been entrenched, but of late mislaid, within England Rugby. With very little time to find and instil such values, this is a challenge of epic proportions.
Lancaster discussed this week a potential pool of players who were desperate to play for their country, but whose behaviour had not always matched this desire. He focused on the requirements of adequate and appropriate preparation, discipline and an understanding of the sacrifices they, as players, must make in order to earn the right to represent their country. According to him, this begins not with the players themselves but with the environment within which they operate and to which they are exposed. This environment, it seems, has been the immediate focus of the interim coach’s overhaul.
Lancaster has not shied away from outside support, outsourcing expertise from Bath’s Ian McGeechan, who was of course himself amongst those initially linked with Martin Johnson’s post. Lancaster also enjoys input from Rowntree, the only coach not to be publicly condemned by players via the leaked World Cup reports, together with Andy Farrell, making up the so called caretaker coaching staff.
Whilst it is clear that Lancaster is simply the warm up act for a yet unnamed and, presumably undetermined, candidate who will offer specialist expertise and longevity, it seems that Lancaster is already making his name known as a coach who means business.
What then is to become of England Rugby post-Lancaster? Whilst there is the small hurdle of the Six Nations to overcome with immediacy, 2015 and the future of the elite game in England is, nonetheless, playing on many a fans’ mind and, one would presume, adding considerable weight to the shoulders of Lancaster.
Brian Moore last week made a valid point; there are only seven World Cup winning coaches in total and each was not so when they were appointed. As Moore rightly recognised, if the RFU demands this sort of calibre of candidate to fill a permanent position post Six Nations, it may have a somewhat restricted number of applicants to approach; none of which, it can expected, will be banging its door down and crying out for the role.
Former England centre Will Greenwood described the need for a coaching structure which understands the strengths and weaknesses of the squad, a set up which would equip players with the skill sets to go out and be physically and mentally intense. Lancaster, Rowntree and Farrell have already revealed an intention to put in place this very structure and sense of understanding, to bring about the demonstration of physical and mental intensity and to create a more positive and hopeful future for England Rugby.
Taking what could be described as a leaf out of Warren Gatland’s book, Lancaster is likely to host a pre-tournament training camp. For Gatland, Poland was about fitness and physical preparation; for Lancaster any such trip will be UK-based and will lean more toward work ethic, discipline and team bonding; skills and attributes that many of those players listed in Johnson’s squad were undoubtedly lacking. This is a sign of a coach who is committed to the investment in, and the development of, individual players, an entire squad and indeed England Rugby as a professional sporting organisation.
According to Rowntree, if England were to win the Six Nations, the new RFU regime would need to rethink the urge to appoint an overseas tournament expert. The man surely has a point. Lancaster must succeed in: introducing a strong work ethic back into a once rotten, soon to be refreshed, squad, igniting a sense of pride amongst disconcerted England fans, and somehow repositioning the chariot back on course once again. If he succeeds in all of the above then there is a strong argument in support of his presence in the long term. If one man is able to have such a widespread positive impact with just 100 days at the helm, just imagine what he could do under permanency of contract.
“I want that pride back”….“We want excitement, energy, pride.” (Rowntree). It seems the trio tasked with managing England Rugby’s greatest ever comeback are singing from the same page, ready to do everything in their power to rediscover this very pride and energy and to introduce it back into the game, encouraging an army of fans to come onboard and find their voices once again.