Former RFU Chief Executive Francis Baron is just one in a long line of individuals to have publicly expressed a preference for electing a head coach who is English.
English rugby, Baron contends, is very different in nature to the overseas game, while the need to instill the correct values in English players, within a very different environment, is paramount.
If we look to England rugby’s sporting counterparts however, success in foreign leadership is undeniable. Zimbabwean Andy Flower brought ‘number one Test side in the world’ to the lips of the Barmy Army after masterminding the team’s rise to success and was later named BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year. If there was ever a time when English cricket enjoyed critical acclaim it was with Flower at the helm and not once do I recall an argument with any great weight to suggest Flower’s nationality had diluted pride in the English game or compromised its potential for success.
But there remains something unique in this game, something unique to the England rugby brand identity. A uniqueness that somehow validates a demand that it be led from within, by talent which understands, lives, breathes and knowingly underpins the values of the red rose. It is this permission to demand home grown leadership, which negates the need for foreign input and turns the concept of overseas outsourcing into a minor insult for many. While there are, albeit begrudgingly, candidates from across the globe who would stand a very real chance at achieving coaching success, under their watch any resulting glory might not taste quite so sweet as it would had it been induced by ‘one of us’.
It’s often difficult to see past the turmoil in New Zealand and remember a time when England rugby fans remained on their feet in chorus in the face of defeat. The Six Nations loss against Wales saw just this; a sense of loyalty to a team, which had gelled so quickly, committed so whole-heartedly and remedied a period of resounding criticism so radically. The Telegraph’s Mick Cleary spoke recently about reconnection: “…the conjunction between team and fan, between RFU and sponsor, between player and their trade.” Following a period in which many of these elements had drifted further and further away from one another, we have begun to witness their reconnection, brought about rapidly by an Englishman simply working to introduce what he believes to be the core values of English rugby back into the game once more.
Down to the requested revival of the red rose on players’ suits and the relocation of pre-Six Nations training camps to the UK, Lancaster has made his commitment to the restoration of pride, patriotism and no-nonsense ‘let’s play rugby’ ethos evident from the moment he was appointed. If this near-on obsessive attention to the finer details of the game, both on and off the field, has achieved such a wide-spread impact in such a short space of time, then it is somewhat of a luxury to imagine just how far it could travel if its puppet master were to stay put.
It may be the presence of one man on a very clear mission; it may be the knowledge that we are operating under the direction of an Englishman who understands the game as we play it. It may just be an element of both. Either way, something, somewhere seems to have clicked.
Regardless of reasoning, the concern remains that in the absence of Lancaster we may lose the momentum the game has been gathering, even in the face of defeat. Moreover in the absence of an English coach who understands on a personal level the journey undergone both internally and externally, the players, the fans and the identity of a brand that seems to be in repair-mode will revert back to acting out.
We would be naïve to believe that the five-man panel will rule out an appointment from outside of the English border but they too would be naïve to remove the opportunity to recreate the England rugby that we have longed to welcome back. Removing the opportunity to take the lead from the hands of an Englishman - who has delivered as compulsory, what many of his predecessors would have considered their greatest achievements - would not only be premature in my mind but it would also risk diluting the connection between the dressing room and the stands. This would be worsened still should the opportunity then be placed in the hands of a candidate who has never fully understood what it means to sport the red rose.