Stuart Lancaster has done a hell of a job in his short time as national coach. England have not played the best rugby in inter galactic history, but they have come together as a team, built belief in each other and played with pride. I assume Lancaster will now get the England job on what he has achieved so far.
Lancaster went away from mainstream selections and showed that he has a knowledge of the young players coming through. He chose well, but also had the sense to know that you cannot try too much at the start of building a team. England played a type of rugby to limit mistakes and put pressure on the opposition. With a new captain and a lot of inexperience in key positions, it made pragmatic sense.
I wrote after England’s first match against Scotland: “I would like to see Own Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt play together. That would give England the sort of physical threat in the middle that makes Wales hard to knock back.”
Lancaster was obviously thinking the same way and it proved an effective combination. I like Farrell. His ability to find space as a kicker shows that he understands the backfield well. I would work on his foot speed because I would like to see him add some explosiveness to his game, but Farrell’s kicking enabled England to squeeze the opposition.
You can’t kick badly against Wales, France and Ireland and hope to hang on. But England’s chasing game behind the kick was very, very good. They were up nearly as quickly as with their orthodox defensive line. They gave the opposition no counter attacking options and were then organised to come back with the ball when it was kicked back to them. It nearly put England in position to win the Grand Slam, although they may just as easily have lost to Scotland and Italy early on.
The scrummage was another big plus. Dan Cole is coming back to his best. The drums that were beating for Graham Rowntree as a scrummage operator were obviously in rhythm with the times. The set piece is traditionally an area of strength for England and it got stronger through the Championship.
If I was an England supporter I would be pretty excited. Lancaster knows the young players from his work with the Saxons and England has always had the playing numbers to do well. They should always contend in a World Cup at home.
But Lancaster will know that as far as England have come, they will have to keep improving if they are to compete with the Southern Hemisphere. I think that they play South Africa four times, New Zealand, Australia and Fiji before the end of the year. They won’t beat those sides just smashing the ball up. They will need an attacking strategy by then and they will need alignment with all the coaches and players.
People ask me a lot of strange questions at the moment. I had one the other day: “Would you work with the Lions given your huge experience of preparing sides to play Australia?” And the answer is that I believe you have to be coaching in Britain to be eligible.
I have also been asked, with reference to England, if a number of strong coaches can work together. It can work, but your beliefs and philosophies need to be aligned. At the All Blacks I had a long association with Steve Hansen both playing and coaching. I also knew Graham Henry well. He had given me a real insight into his coaching at the Blues when I was setting up things at the Crusaders.
So I knew them well. You need to be certain that ego will not get in the way. There is a lot of debate between the coaches and it has always to be for the good of the team. There is no place for point scoring off the pitch. Could I work with Lancaster? I don’t know the man, I like where I am at the moment, but I respect what he has achieved. And is that question the right way round?
As I said before, rightly or wrongly, I assume Stuart Lancaster will get the England job. I also assume he will be able to get Andy Farrell out of his Saracens contract and keep Rowntree on board. That is what I think will happen, but it is win, win for England at the moment, because I also have huge respect for Nick Mallett’s abilities. I await the puff of smoke with interest.
And now it’s off to Australia and South Africa with the Chiefs where I am loving the work. Exciting times ahead.