Rugby Union: Why Former Teacher Lancaster Needs An A For England

Ball In Touch: Our rugby columnist Jeff Ball explains now the deadline for applications has passed, who is in the running for the England job and what Stuart Lancaster needs to do to make it his, plus other topics

Ball In Touch: Our rugby columnist Jeff Ball explains now the deadline for applications has passed, who is in the running for the England job and what Stuart Lancaster needs to do to make it his, plus other topics. Join us on Twitter @BallInTouch to continue the discussion about these and more.Trying to be Top of the Class With the deadline for applications now passed, all those who want the top job of coaching England will now have to sit and wait for the RFU the go through the CVs and for Stuart Lancaster to finish his extended interview that is the Six Nations. However, given the fact the front runners and favourites have slowly slipped away, to paraphrase Henry Ford it now seems to be a case of €˜you can have any coach you want, as long as it is Mallett€™. The ex-Italy Coach Nick Mallett has long been considered very near the top of the list for who was to replace Martin Johnson, with Wayne Smith and Jim Mallinder crowding nearby. But both the latter two have now revealed they have not applied for the role, at least not this time around, instead pointing to existing commitments. Eddie O€™Sullivan the ex-Ireland head coach and John Kirwan, last seen leading the Japanese national side, are other big names believed to have been happy to complete the application form. And, of course, Stuart Lancaster. With the greatest respect, O€™Sullivan and Kirwan are not quite what England want. They are undoubtedly good coaches but if they have the gravitas and forward thinking to lead and develop England into the top side in the world, I€™m not so sure. Both have a fairly chequered record, though the development of the Japanese was been down to Kirwan amongst others, to give credit where credit is due. So really that leaves us with current incumbent, albeit in a temporary role, Stuart Lancaster, and believed RFU favourite Mallett. For Lancaster to get the job he basically needs to win the Championship, or at least make a very good show of trying. So far, so good I would say. Two wins with a side that were barely on first name terms six weeks ago has been overlooked by many expecting to see the crushing dominance England are capable of. That is an unfair expectation on Lancaster as he has managed to generate a good team spirit and a solid defence. Given the callow nature of the side, the way they fought back to win against Italy, rather than chasing Italy, was certainly encouraging. This is a different England to what we are used to €“ the forwards are not the be all and end all and the backs must learn to break the mould of the English test side and learn to score some tries with the pace and verve their Welsh colleagues have been showing. It is the attack and the ability to keep and use possession that must be improved quickly. Both games so far could have been lost, there is no doubt about that and the Scots and Italians will be disappointed they couldn€™t finish the job. Seeing as Lancaster used to be a teacher, I would say he is grading a solid B at the moment. A loss in either game so far would have dropped him to a C. Therefore a win against Wales will push that to an A grade and one more victory against Ireland or France makes it an unfathomable A*. For Lancaster to keep his current role I believe he needs to be scoring at least an A to make the RFU (and I€™m sure his parents) happy enough to continue with him. I suspect what is more likely is England may sneak one more win, though in truth the possibility of not winning another game looms large, and the RFU will start tinkering. Evolution rather than revolution again. To dispose of the current setup entirely would be unfair and foolish. What I believe is a possibility is Nick Mallett comes into and above the current setup, maybe making one change or addition to the backroom staff and Lancaster is given the chance to learn the ropes from within. Then, like New Zealand, when the time comes and Mallett steps to the side, Lancaster will be in an excellent position to take the role permanently. But we are still waiting to see how the RFU pick. As recent history has shown it is not always easy to know what the RFU will do next and we don€™t know everyone who has applied for the role. There may be a surprise lurking. All I can say is I have not applied this time, but I am not ruling out applying for it in the future. Freezing in France For anyone expecting to spend last Saturday night watching France take on Ireland, the disappointment would have been as bitter as the cold in Paris. A lot has been said about it, but no one seems to be willing to take the blame for it. With the temperature dropping to an expected minus ten Celsius, the game was called off with barely half an hour to go to the 9pm kick off. Furious discussions between the management of both sides and Dave Pearson the referee finally decided, with only thirty minutes to spare, the pitch was unsafe due to parts been frozen and the fear more would fear as the game went on. The travelling Irish support and the home Parisian side unsurprisingly were not impressed, especially as it took another twenty minutes to announce it over the PA system. So with everyone blaming the other person, who exactly is at fault? Well let€™s start with the stadium. Despite being relatively new. Stade Francais has no under pitch heating. Apparently there are underground methane pockets that would not combine well with the electricity of the system. Hindsight says why wasn€™t this rectified, or why not build elsewhere, but it is a little too late. Okay, what about the French Rugby Federation (FFR). By giving in to the demands of broadcasters to have such a late kick off, it doesn€™t require a meteorologist to work out it will be colder at that time of night. The Six Nations is a winter event, this isn€™t news to anyone that February is pretty cold, surely? The fact the weather had been sub-zero for days before the game was another glaring sign and yet nothing happened. Of course the complaints of cancelling a Saturday game on, say, Thursday, would have caused ructions if the weather had improved but frankly, tough. Player safety is and must be paramount, not the wishes of a television company. It was a lose/lose situation whenever it got decided as there would always be someone inconvenienced by it. Finally we have Dave Pearson the referee, charged as kick off approached with being the sole decider of whether the game will go ahead and credited with changing his mind from a pitch inspection 90 minutes earlier. But let€™s not forget, he is there to referee a game, not decide television schedules, organise corporate hospitality and give the forecast for the next few days. In this age of professionalism it was all a bit amateur. The irony of the situation is added to by Newport Gwent Dragons being punished for not completing their cup fixture against Saracens, for, you guessed it, a frozen pitch. The suspended £10,000 fine was for not having an alternative venue arranged, you know, just in case. Meanwhile in France, no action will be taken against the FFR, beyond maybe a slap on the wrist from the Six Nations committee for not using any common sense and playing the game a couple of hours early, at the very minimum. In seems ludicrous that there are no sanctions against the international sides. What is the French for double standards? Hopefully lessons have now been learned and we never get a repeat of this. The Six Nations is Europe€™s showcase event and such amateurish and calamitous decision making reflects badly on the sport as a whole. Samoan Sevens Heaven Finally, congratulations to the Samoan Sevens side for their victory at the Las Vegas Sevens last week, scoring a last minute try to beat leaders New Zealand 26-19 in the Final. Plenty of Samoans find they have to leave home to play in places like New Zealand to make the most of their opportunities and there are a selection of Samoans currently playing for the full New Zealand side, meaning the relationship between the two countries can occasionally be a tad acrimonious. Samoa haven€™t won a Sevens event now since they won the series in 2010. That, plus the history and rivalry they have with neighbours New Zealand meant it was a momentous achievement for the side, one that had Samoan coach Stephen Betham in tears. Not many will have noticed this famous win for Samoa, but those few back home will cherish it. With the famous Hong Kong Sevens next up, they will be looking to build on this and improve on their now fifth position in the table.

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Follow @BallInTouch on Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest rugby news and columns. Jeff Ball is a Geordie with a Newcastle Falcons season ticket, a rugby coaching badge, a bias for Newcastle United on Playstation games and was terrified by Jurassic Park as a child. For more of his personal musings following him on Twitter @JeffreyBall If you have any comments about this story please post a comment.