No-nonsense Lancaster has England in rude health
England centre Brad Barritt on his way to scoring a try against New Zealand during the 38-21 win at Twickenham in November. photograph: adrian dennis/afp getty
The outstanding win over the All Blacks in November shows the potential lurking in a talented England squad
Poor behaviour at the 2011 World Cup and claims of English arrogance are firmly in the past. Stuart Lancaster, as people expected him to do, stripped away the England supremacist views and replaced them with humility and a work ethic that has already paid dividends.
England may look at four-year cycles and see the Six Nations through a different prism to that of Ireland but Lancaster and his new breed of England youngsters have already registered an outstanding 38-21 win over the All Blacks in November and go into the championship rightly fearless and looking to build further momentum.
Down to 14 players for the end of the New Zealand match, Lancaster has done a fine job in rebuilding England from the bottom up and has shaped a team who play for each other. But the coach is not about to be blinded by just one win.
“We have got to make sure we back it up now,” he said in November. “As a coaching team we’re far too pragmatic (to allow anyone to think we are the finished article) — and I’m far too Cumbrian to allow that to happen. I’m already thinking how we’re going to plan for the pre-Six Nations camp in Leeds and how we’re going to maintain this standard.”
If you’re English that should be comforting. But now Lancaster’s job is to manage expectations.
From World Cup downbeats to the toast of Twickenham, the coach recently invited Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis and Ashes-winning cricket captain Andrew Strauss to the team hotel, presumably to tell them that while their second title in a decade is within their grasp they have to go out and win it first.
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and former England footballer Gary Neville have also paid visits over the last 12 months.
Now there is a strongly positive sense of direction about England and while the squad has names people may not have seen before, rest assured that they are there on merit as there are no longer any sinecures. Lancaster has placed a premium on form.
But he also has some injuries to consider, which may involve some tinkering.
Most recently Exeter flanker Tom Johnson and London Irish prop Alex Corbisiero(who looked set to start) were ruled out of the championship, while Gloucester outhalf, Freddie Burns, will also miss least the first two matches against Scotland and Ireland.
Lancaster has also lost Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi. Given his potential for destruction and the big shift he put in against the All Blacks (scored a try and set up two) the hole at 13 where the Anglo-Samoan Leicester Tiger normally resides will be probably vacant for the first two matches.