When Stuart Lancaster was named as interim head coach by the England Rugby Football Union, you would not have been looked down upon for uttering the word “Who?” However,maybe that is just what they need after failing so miserably at the 2011 Rugby World Cup under the command of the highest profile coach in the country’s history; Martin Johnson.
Without the luxury of a permanent contract, one could forgive Stuart Lancaster for playing it safe and use a similar squad to the one which promised so much before the 2011 RWC. As an interim head coach, Lancaster would more than likely have to produce results straight away in order to secure his role as permanent head coach. However, Lacaster has chosen to do the complete opposite and for this we here at Rugby Window must commend him. He has decided on an entire overhaul of the squad and taken on a “zero tolerance” approach to player ill-discipline. He has chosen to put the needs of his team and country before the that of his own. He realises that this period after the world cup must be used to blood new young players so that they can develop into a championship winning team in time for the 2015 RWC in their home country. This in turn means that in the professional era of rugby union, where the public and media expect nothing more than a win, the coach will have to accept that they may lose some matches due to lack of experience in the name of finding the new Johnny Wilkson or Martin Jonson.
With critics panning the RFU for seemingly throwing away the immense talent provided by their 1 million registered rugby players and World Cup winning coach Graham Henry recently stating that England are the “world champions of wasting talent” it is essential for them to rethink the way they develop players and I believe that Lancaster, the former Director of Rugby for Leeds Carnege, may just be the man to do it.
Lancaster began his tenure by appointing a new captain; Chris Robshaw. Robshaw has only one cap for England but has shown his skill both as player and as captain for Harlequins who are currently top of the table in the Aviva English Premier League and are a regular name in the Heineken Cup. He then added uncapped young talent like Owen Farrell, Joe Marler and Jordan Turner-Hall to the squad. Now, starting from the ashes of a failed tournament, England will do well to to keep going with these youngsters – even when the going gets tough and they must follow in the footsteps of their bitter rivals Australia in terms of growing young talent. 4 years ago the Aussies decided to start afresh and built a winning team, which culminated in an 2011 which saw an Australian franchise winning the Super Rugby Competition, the national team winning the Tri-Nations and claiming the bronze medal at the RWC.
Lancaster has decided to take a firm and decisive approach in dealing with his players to try to re-mould the England team from a group of thugs, who embarrassed their country at the RWC, into a team that will once again command respect from the rugby world. Recently he dealt with player ill-discipline with an iron fist, cutting first choice scrum half Danny Care from the squad after being charged with drink driving on new years day. He has also dropped back-up fullback Delon Armitage from he England Saxons Squad (England “A” team) after being arrested following a brawl in a Torquay bar. Critics are questioning how Johnson allowed the players to stray so far but at least Lancaster has started his reign as head coach by pulling some of the weeds from the stagnating flower bed.
This will truly be one of the most interesting 6 nations in recent years with all the teams (bar Italy) being capable of winning any given match. The perfect stage for England to test their up-and-coming players at the highest level, starting at Murryfield against a formidable Scottish Team.
England Squad for the 2012 Six Nations
FORWARDS: Mouritz Botha (Saracens), Calum Clark (Northampton), Dan Cole (Leicester), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Tom Croft (Leicester), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Phil Howson (Northampton), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Lee Mears (Bath), Ben Morgan (Scarlets), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Matt Stevens (Saracens), Rob Webber (Wasps), David Wilson (Bath), Tom Wood (Northampton)
BACKS: Chris Ashton (Northampton), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Lee Dickson (Northampton), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Toby Flood (Leicester), Ben Foden (Northampton), Charlie Hodgson (Saracens), Charlie Sharples (Gloucester), Joe Simpson (Wasps), David Strettle (Saracens), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester), Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester).
Six Nations Fixtures (Central African Time)
Saturday 4th February 2012
16:30 France vs Italy (Stad Francais)
19:00 Scotland vs England (Murryfield)
Sunday 5th February 2012
17:00 Ireland vs Wales (Aviva Stadium Dublin)