The Big Debate: Stuart Lancaster for England?
No sooner had the final whistle been blown on this year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship than thoughts of England fans turned to the next Head Coach.
The big question is whether Stuart Lancaster, the interim manager, has done enough to justify being appointed to the full-time role over the course of the last few months, and the last 5 matches in particular.
His tenure began with an outstanding PR effort, returning a sense of humilty to the players by taking them to Leeds rather than the Algarve, reinforcing discipline by unceremoniously ejecting Danny Care and Delon Armitage for their misdemeanours, and picking a squad on form rather than reputation.
He swept aside England’s old guard of players and those closely associated with the Martin Johnson regime, treating them respectfully, but making it clear that this was a new era.
Then after two unconvincing wins in Edinburgh and Rome, a home defeat to Wales suggested that Lancaster may not be in the job for too long, despite the improved performance. But then England came to life in Paris and thrashed Ireland at home to finish 2nd in the table and leave some people convinced that Lancaster is the right man.
He seems to have the backing of the squad, having created a hard-working environment in a short space of time, whilst assistants Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell were unequivocal in their support for his candidacy on Monday.
The RFU has a dilemma on its hands. The public clamour for the RFU to hand him the reins on a full-time basis are growing louder every day, and the short-termism is reminiscent of the vociferous calls to appoint Martin Johnson several years ago.
However, the argument against appointing Lancaster is also reasonably compelling. His inexperience is the main factor counting against him, given he has never coached at international level, nor even at top-flight club level in the Heineken Cup. How will he fare when the pressure mounts, when he loses key players to injury, or when England suffers a heavy defeat? Nobody knows because he’s not been in that situation before.
Although the current mood is positive following the Six Nations campaign, a tough 3-match tour to South Africa is the next assignment for England, followed by a 4-match Autumn Internationals campaign against Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji.
A worst-case scenario – but one that is certainly feasible for this young side – would be 6 defeats out of the next 7 matches, and then how popular would Lancaster be? And would the public and press, currently calling for Lancaster, turn on RFU CEO Ian Ritchie to ask why he appointed a rookie coach?
Nick Mallett appears to be the other main contender for the position, and his CV appears to stack up more convincingly when you consider the challenges that lie ahead for England. He seems to be the more sensible long-term option, but will Ritchie go against public opinion for his first major decision?
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