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The RFU gets it wrong again Posted about 2 years ago

Has the mob ridden out of town yet? Viewing the selection of Stuart Lancaster as England coach from a dispassionate distance was like watching one of those old westerns when the townspeople march on the sheriff’s office and string up the wrong guy. I wish Lancaster well, but like Martin Johnson before him, there is negligible evidence that he will be a successful England coach.

No, this was selection by majority rule. Everyone was shouting for the red rose of Lancaster. The players, knowing that their jobs were most secure with Lancaster, inevitably sided with the new coach. The British media, TV and newspapers, were keen to whip up the hysterical overreaction to some marginal Six Nations success. And England supporters, encouraged by a few wins against mediocre opposition, were easy to stampede.

With the cattle charging through the shires, what was needed was some cool governance. But experience told you that there was very little chance of such a precious commodity coming out of Twickenham

No one on the five person selection panel had ever coached a team beyond a World Cup quarter-final. Even a Heineken Cup success would have been nice. As a group their record at club level was, well let’s be generous, mediocre. Where were Clive Woodward or Brian Ashton or Jake White or Graham Henry on that panel, men with deep World Cup experience? How many of them were even asked?

Sadly there are all too few people of authority around these days. Is it any wonder that today’s sporting CEO nearly always goes the populist route when Britain’s parliament of the previous 20 years seems to have been run almost entirely by focus group. Don’t do the right thing, do the popular thing.

And that is what Mr Ritchie and his cohorts have done. Stuart Lancaster’s record at club level is to have taken Leeds into the first division in 2007. They were immediately relegated, on a limited budget, with a record of won 2, lost 19, drawn 1.

Last year England Saxons won the 2011 Churchill Cup under Lancaster. They were playing at home. In their pool they beat Tonga and USA. Both those sides only had three players from their World Cup starting XV. The Saxons then beat Canada 37-6 in the final, a decent result, but not the sort to initiate an England career.

During the Six Nations England beat Scotland (who had lost 6 matches in a row) 13-6. They beat Italy (lost 8 of previous 11, but were too good for Russia, Japan and USA) 19-15, one of their poorest ever results against the Azurri. England then lost 19-12 at home to Wales. They finished by beating a shockingly selected French side by two points and stuffing Ireland – missing O’Connell, O’Driscoll and Murray – due to a dominant scrummage.

The results were marginal and certainly no improvement on 12 months earlier. Indeed they were slightly worse. England’s points difference was down on 2011. The only improvement was against Ireland, but when England lost in Dublin 12 months ago Ireland had their two Lions captains both playing. Funnily enough those guys make a difference. Take Carter and McCaw out of the New Zealand side and they start to look beatable.

Now let’s look at Nick Mallett’s record as a coach. As South Africa coach he went on a record run of 17 consecutive victories, unbeaten for 16 months. There were record victories over France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. South Africa lost to eventual winners Australia, a very fine team, in extra time of the 1999 World Cup semi.

Mallett then coached Stade Francais to consecutive French titles in 2003 and 2004. Italy, without a 9 or 10 to speak of, became a far more competitive side under Mallett – and this in an era when both Wales and Ireland improved significantly. Italy won in Argentina, drew in Cardiff and beat France in the Six Nations under Mallett. And perhaps most significantly of all in this period, Mallett coached the Barbarians to victory over both New Zealand and South Africa in 2009 and 2010.

Ask Graham Henry how easy that is to do after Australia put 60 points on his Barbarians side this year. Meanwhile Mallett was helping coach the southern hemisphere to victory over the north.
Furthermore Mallett’s appointment with England would almost certainly have guaranteed Wayne Smith’s participation as attack coach, the pair having enjoyed their work together in that Help For Heroes match. Smith is a World Cup winning coach who is currently turning the Chiefs defence into one of the best in the Super 15. With Lancaster there appears to be an expensive scrabble for the services of Andy Farrell who has next to no track record as an attack coach. Strange.

But never mind the facts. The posse was riding and the dust was swirling. The people had decided on the right man. Far be it from the RFU to exercise some logical independent governance when they could pull the security blanket of mob rule over their heads. All I can say is that must have been one hell of a presentation from Lancaster to get a well-paid job like this, because he certainly didn’t have much of a CV.

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Joseph. Wow impressive marketing for what has been a flat impact on from MJ. MJ was doing well, Lancaster continued it, freshening up selection as MJ would have, freshening up staff that MJ would have had to do had he stayed. I think he can be good but it’s all to be proved in S.Af. Not spinning the facts as you are doing. If the boys let down Lancaster ON TOUR as they did MJ then no progress. If they don’t he’s lucky because MJ did not deserve that nor cause it but he then deserves credit. Followed up by a better autumn international window reestablishing fortress Twickenham then he’s stepped up. Not yet though with a home loss to Wales, 5th in rankings.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland almost 2 years ago

I think you have missed a lot of what Lancaster has achieved in this Six Nations and also the other arguments for appointing him for 2015.

To start with the Six Nations: 4 wins, 1 loss, 2nd place. As far as results go that is exactly the same as the winning side of last year. However, last year’s team were at the peak of their developement while this side are at the start of theirs. The negative is in the fact that last year’s side scored quite a lot of tries while this year’s side have struggled. I am not going to deny that this side have not looked that prolific but they have looked potent, with 5 tries in their last two games against France and Ireland. If we also take a lokk at the circumstances, I think we can forgive them in that regard: They could not train for the Italy game and played it in snowy conditions; Scotland was their first game, away from home against what was a very good and motivated Scotland side; and Wales were the best defence in the tournament and we got very close to scoring against them on more than one occasion.

On the positive side though, he masterminded a win at Murrayfield for the first time in 8 years! That is easy to overlook because everyone believes that we should always beat Scotland but no England player in that sidehad won at Murrayfield. Moreover, I believe that this Scotland side has more talent than Scotalnd have had in a decade and the achievement becomes even greater (yes they got the wooden spoon but that is more down to a loss of confidence). We were within a score of beating a Wales side that are incredibly talented, we won in Paris for the first time in 4 years, breaking France’s great home record, and we beat Ireland for only the second time since Clive Woodward retired. That is quite frankly a fantastic record. Breaking the losing streaks that have been in place since the Robinson era against one of the more competitive Six Nations in recent times.

That alone is not to be sniffed at but there is a case for saying that Mallett could have equalled it or even gone one better. However, this was done with a happy England squad and a happy Twickenham which is more than can be said of England in a long time. That is down to Lancaster. He is a man who is obviously very determined but has a genuine affection for England and English rugby that goes far beyond a contract. He is someone that I would love to play under and I don’t imagine that I am alone in that. That emotoinal connection is not something that Mallet could ever have produced, he is not that sort of man. And that is what England will need in 2015 to help them win the world cup.

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England almost 2 years ago

Not really worried how the North stuff themselves. Their club competitions are full of foreigners, resulting in poor national sides IMO.

Good to see what Gatland has done with Wales. Seems the Southern approach worked and paid off. The proof is in the pudding and I guess we’ll have to see what happens with the upcoming Autumn tours in the SOUTH.

The NH should be wary that the Argies will now also become a force to be reckoned with gaining heaps of experience playing the SANZAR nations. The Pampas XV team in SA are already developing the next bunch Pumas.

Wow, now I feel like having some pudding.

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South Africa about 2 years ago

This is one of the best-reasoned (no pun intended) comment on the new England set-up. I think that within a year, England will rue not getting the likes of Nick Mallett on board when he was available. Mallett is tough and driven. He left SA because of political interference that he would not accept. His published views on what the north needs to do to beat southern teams is refreshingly simple: up the intensity and fitness, and play a hard fast game. What a tragedy that he will now end up elsewhere…maybe Canada, should Keiran Crowley (who is doing a very good job) move on. This decision was driven by the players, as Mr. Reason said. That is no way to pick a coach..And as for the idea that England needs an English coach…I consider that nonsense…what they need is to start winning. Mallett is the man who will do that more than Lancaster, in my view. Besides that, Mallett was born in England.

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Canada about 2 years ago

@mark guant , England need and English coach, I suppose that is not the same for the team selected then , only English players , born and raised in England , come on get real , the modern game dictates that results are required and that the best man for the job does not have to be English , I agree there must be better coaches than S L around.

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Spain about 2 years ago

Lancaster vs Mallett. Not exactly clash of the titans. Is England really back on track? A decision did not have to be made on the coach. For that we must blame the usual muppets at the top if it goes wrong. They should have sent them to south Africa under interim Lancaster. See if the boys get hammered on the pitch and go out on the piss and make a fool of Lancaster and ruin another coach or see if they have become professionals who can tour and honor their country, hopefully with three tight games. Then decide before the summer break. Picking Lancaster was a punt. The right decision if it had to be made, but it didn’t have to be made yet.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 2 years ago

Whats with the track record angle? I seem to remember a certain Clive Woodward being appointed the Head Coach of England after a ‘glittering’ coaching career consisting of a short spell at Henley, another short spell at London Irish and an even shorter spell at Bath. This didn’t stop him from creating the best England tean we have seen to date. Stuarts career is similar although you could argue he has even more experience as a coach. They both share similar teaching and sports science backgrounds too. Its no accident that the rugby public and in that I include the vast army of coaches and players, support him. Give the guy a chance, you never know he might actually make us proud to be English, unlike the media!

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 2 years ago

Just how factual is this view of Nick Mallett?

Well, he did go on that 17-match unbeaten run with South Africa, that’s true. He also sacked Gary Teichmann as captain and replaced him with an unproven Bobby Skinstad. That decision probably cost SA the 1999 world cup.

When was that 17-match run achieved? Back in 1997-1998! 15 years have passed since then, during which time Mallett has only added Italy to his international coaching C.V. Why so? Why was Mallett not considered for the vacant Springbok job after the World Cup in 2011?

And let’s look at Italy. Did Mallett make them more competitive? No. They achieved exactly half the win percentage of his predecessor Pierre Berbizier. Berbizier won two games in a 6 Nations for the first time, and an away win against Scotland – both achievements were beyond Mallett.

So the view of Mallett presented here is factually incorrect.

And what did he do immediately after being overlooked for the England job? Offer his services to Heyneke Meyer, the Springbok coach [who happen to be England’s next opponents] as a consultant! So really, just how dedicated would he have been to the English cause?

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 2 years ago

Sorry Mr. Reason – I totally agree with Fabio. Anyone who has read Sir Clive’s autobiography can see that any level of experienced coach can achieve greatness with the right vision, drive & determination and I have absolutely no reason to doubt Stuart Lancaster in his new role.

He has made a connection – with the players, the RFU bigwigs, the media and most importantly people like me and Fabio. Mr Lancaster and I are the same age. We both coach at grass roots level – he as an assistant coach with his sons U11’s team, I coach U10’s at Melbourne RFC (in England not Australia!) and reading an interview in a Sunday paper before the start of the 6N he discussed how he stood in the bar of his local rugby club watching England play poorly in the World Cup whilst looking round at the despair on the faces of all present and realising in that moment what English rugby needed. England need an English coach. Period. I believe only an Englishman can communicate what is necessary out on the pitch as that embroidered rose rests over the heart of the players when they pull on the shirt.

Talking to other coaches at our club each Sunday morning I have not heard a single negative regarding the RFU’s decision and the passion and pride that our boys played with during the 6 nations can only get stronger and stronger over time, bonding those players together to make history – winning the world cup on home soil, recapturing the glory of 2003. Rose tinted spectacles ? Too optimistic ? Naieve ? Maybe, but I can see how much Stuart Lancaster trusts and believes in his team, and for that I believe too.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 2 years ago

I believe you have missed a big point, if I may say so. What Lancaster has done is remarkable, call me a fool to believe in him so quickly, but I honestly believe he can do great things for England.

You compared England’s results from this years Six Nations to last, and yes England did do better last year, but what Johnson did last year was go for the safe option, pick the players with the most caps and play a no-risk strategy. Lancaster is investing a lot of time to the young talent and developing a strong core to the England squad. The result this year was not as good as last year, but come next year, maybe the year after that, England will have a very powerful, young and experienced squad. And that is winning stuff.

He as not just introducing the young players, he has also restored pride into the team. They are playing with discipline (bar Dylan Hartley’s hungry moment). The players are playing for the jersey, for the honour, for England.

It is difficult to say what Mallet would have achieved, but from the early stages of Lancaster’s rule, it is safe to say, England are heading in the right direction, and quickly.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 2 years ago

Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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