Our rugby columnist Jeff Ball discusses why the RFU should be applauded for, for once, making the easy decision. Let us know your thoughts either in the comments below or on Twitter @BallInTouch
Imagine you take over someone else’s job on a short term basis after they leave in fairly acrimonious circumstances, straight away surpassing the expectations set by the mess your predecessor left, but still you won’t be given it full time for the one attribute you cannot possibly do anything about. Then, imagine you have to undertake a laborious interview process all the while beavering away in what is the busiest time of year for your job with the whole of your customer base critiquing everything you do. Next, imagine surpassing their expectations, and everyone else’s, and leading your charges to results and performances that get better with every passing week and your main rival for the role even concedes you should get the job. But then imagine your employers to have a history of making decisions that often confuse and frustrate and go against the grain of public perception to the point of madness.
Far from taken place on a grey business park in the middle of nowhere, this has been incumbent England coach Stuart Lancaster’s life for the past few months and despite all that, the lad from Yorkshire has come up trumps. Today he was announced as England coach full-time and the rugby world let out a huge sigh of relief. The RFU’s opinion actually aligned with everyone else’s for the first time in who knows how long.
Despite performing exceptionally and building an environment and squad England fans can once again be proud of, the RFU’s seemingly impassable obsession with top flight experience had looked set to dampen his chances, especially with several much more experienced faces already turned away at the door.
The public and the players all concurred Lancaster should be given the role and yet they all winced with the pain of expected disappointment as the RFU finalised its decisions this week. Thankfully and in fact almost surprisingly, they chose to say thanks but no thanks to last year’s heir apparent Nick Mallett and stick with the bloke from Leeds who admirably and humbly speaks of ‘honour and privilege’ about his new task, with a contract that will take him to January 2016, just after the next World Cup, which will be taking place in England.
Time is a great healer and a quick scan through the archives will remind those who have forgotten how far English rugby had seemingly fallen at the end of last year where the papers were littered with stories on the front pages rather than the back. If you will allow me to mix my metaphors, Lancaster has provided calm after the storm and the green shoots of progress are clear for all to see.
However, now the hard work starts. 37 games to go to the next World Cup he tells us. 37 games to change his fresh faced squad into contenders once again for the Webb Ellis trophy. A tour to South Africa is next in the diary and by then the honeymoon period will well and truly be over. Then we shall see just where England are as a team.
A step up in quality will be required to get a result over there as even the best sides from the Northern Hemisphere have struggled when on the other side of the world, never mind this bunch of players, most of which can count their number of caps on one hand. A glance at Wales’ results when they tour this summer will provide a benchmark for their English cousins.
The complexion of Lancaster’s backroom staff will also be an important factor to get sorted in good time for the summer. Graham Rowntree seems likely to stay on but Farrell is due back at Saracens, and they will not give up his contract without a potentially expensive fight. Lancaster has said he wants to keep a tight knit set-up but may come to realise, or be strongly advised, to find a Team Manager to take a bit of pressure off when it comes to the non-rugby stuff, much like what didn’t happen to Martin Johnson.
Until then the sun is figuratively and literally shining on Twickenham. Well done the RFU for making the decision we all wanted but were worried would not happen. They have done their bit and the right man has got the job. Now it is up to him to keep it.
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