England debate over Lancaster resurfaces but now is time for looking forward

first_img Support The Guardian On Monday, the day before the second anniversary of his final match as England’s head coach, Stuart Lancaster was still dealing with the fallout from the failed World Cup campaign as he responded to comments about his four years in charge made in a serialisation of a new book by Rob Andrew, the Rugby Football Union’s former director of professional rugby.Lancaster is now based in Ireland, along with one of his former England coaches, Andy Farrell, but there is nowhere far enough away to escape from references to the 2015 World Cup and, in particular, the selection of Sam Burgess, who had switched codes less than a year before the start of the tournament and was named in the squad as a centre having been deployed at wing forward by his then club Bath.Andrew referenced Burgess as evidence that Lancaster and his coaches had lost their way as selectors. He did not attribute England’s downfall to the performances of one player – in the limited time he had on the field, Burgess showed in his ability to off-load and sustain moves why the management had been so keen to pick him – but cited the effect it had on the morale of a group that had been bound together tightly in an environment that stressed how caps had to be earned. In response, Lancaster simply stated that everyone was entitled to their opinion and he would keep his own thoughts on Burgess to himself, for now. … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Share on LinkedIn The Breakdown Share on Pinterest Topics Share on Messenger Share on Facebook Share via Email Share on Twitter blogposts It was thought at the time that the prospect of the Wales centres running at Ford would make England vulnerable defensively but when Jamie Roberts charged at him last month during the Premiership match between Harlequins and Leicester, the outside-half hauled him down. Effectiveness in the tackle, rather than courage, was the concern raised against Ford’s defence who in the 2015 World Cup was still an inexperienced international, as he was when Jones picked him.Jones, however, was starting out and could afford to be bold in a way that Lancaster, scarred by four Six Nations near-misses, could not at the World Cup. The debate may have resurfaced this week because of Andrew’s book serialisation but it is one that is pertinent because Jones has made it clear he will be leaving England at the end of their 2019 World Cup campaign in Japan. The search for his successor should have started already, even if the RFU believes it can persuade him to change his mind.The RFU’s chief executive, Stephen Brown, has said the best person for the job would be appointed. Andrew was part of the panel that appointed Lancaster, and his observations about the World Cup have been taken as an admission of a mistake. The entire book would need to be read to gauge that but, after the 2011 World Cup, when senior players undermined Lancaster’s predecessor, Martin Johnson, with acts of selfishness and stupidity, a rebuild was needed.Lancaster preached the virtues of hard work and told his players to put the cause before their personal interests. There was a steady improvement but was it a sign of the pressure that was building that the RFU rewarded Lancaster and his coaches with new contracts that ran until 2020?Immediately after England’s exit, Jones, who was ending his time with Japan to move to South Africa to lead the Stormers, said England needed to go for someone with international experience, a coach who would not be sidetracked by external criticism or advice. If the RFU decides the head coach from 2020 is not to be found among the current management, the next stop is the Premiership where Jim Mallinder, Dean Richards and Rob Baxter are the leading English directors of rugby.Six of the 12 clubs have Englishmen in charge but if candidates from outside were considered, with Brown saying nationality is not an issue, Saracens’ Mark McCall would surely attract interest. England have in the past approached the New Zealanders Warren Gatland and Wayne Smith, and John Mitchell spent two years on Clive Woodward’s management team, but how many are there with the necessary international experience?“We want to be the strongest country for rugby across the globe,” said Brown. “I don’t think there’s an excuse not to be that.” Quite. England and France are the two countries in the world that can afford to properly fund both the professional and amateur sides of the game rather than have to prioritise but identifying the right coach is about more than money. Who will be making the decision?• This is an extract taken from the Breakdown, the Guardian’s weekly rugby union email. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions. Rugby union Read more From the start of his tenure, Lancaster said he wanted an inside-centre who was an alternative fly-half, a second-five to put it the New Zealand way; a player who could help drive the team tactically and complement the 10. He struggled to find one, starting George Ford and Owen Farrell together once – against Samoa in the autumn of 2014 – having given them 16 minutes at the end of the match against New Zealand earlier that November and 10 minutes in Rome during the Six Nations.The uncertainty of Lancaster – who moved Brad Barritt to 13 in 2014 to accommodate Kyle Eastmond and Billy Twelvetrees – about his midfield continued through 2015. Luther Burrell, who in no way resembles a second-five, started at 12 in the Six Nations and one of the three warm-up matches, along with Burgess and Barritt.Lancaster never found what he was looking for, not helped by injuries, and while his successor, Eddie Jones, put Ford at 10 and Farrell at 12 in his first match against Scotland at Murrayfield in February 2016, he tried Farrell and Burrell together in the first Test in Australia that year, an experiment that lasted 29 minutes.Ford has remained at 10 since then and when Farrell – who won his first cap under Lancaster at inside-centre – was not available for the tour to Argentina this summer, two outside-halves, Alex Lozowski and Piers Francis, each started a Test at inside-centre. Jones, in the continued absence of Manu Tuilagi, a player he has envisaged playing at 12 rather than 13, knows his own mind and is consistent. England were adrift tactically in the 2015 World Cup, starting Ford against Fiji, securing a bonus point, and then restoring Farrell to outside-half against Wales and playing Burgess and Barritt in midfield. Read more England rugby union team Since you’re here… Sign up to the Breakdown for the latest rugby union news Share on WhatsApp Barbarians women’s team to make historic debut in Ireland in November Reuse this contentlast_img