Stuart Lancaster knows the price of failure will be expensive

England coach’s lucrative long-term deal with RFU may not survive defeat to Australia

Stuart Lancaster and Chris Robshaw were explaining on Thursday how players remove themselves from what could otherwise become a suffocating world of stress.

Living in the bubble of a World Cup has been shown to be a weathering process and, day by day, energy seeps out.

England captain Robshaw takes his dog for a walk. His All Black counterpart Richie McCaw flies gliders. Tom Youngs goes farming. The last time Lancaster changed up his day he decided to see a film.

The England coach went to see the Everest movie. What happened, he was asked. He raised his head and looked across the room.


“A guy goes up a mountain. A storm comes in. The guy dies.” The room bursts into laughter, more at the irony of the narrative and maybe it’s parallel with the England team, than the curt summing up by Lancaster.

Could you not find something with a happier ending, someone asked. But the moment summed up a lot about this week in the plush Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot where England have been holed up. There has not been a lot of laughter.

Knock-on effect

Although Lancaster believes England can still win the tournament, he also understands an Australian win could have a knock-on effect on those in the RFU, who last year gave him a six-year deal.

It was largely Ian Richie, the chief executive of the RFU, who came up with a contract for the farmer's son from Cumbria estimated to be £350,000-£400,000 (€472k- €540k) per annum.

“This is not a risk,” said Richie at the time.

Last month at the Soccerex Global Conference, despite Rob Andrew, the RFU's professional rugby director, stating that this team would not peak for another two to three years, Richie went further.

“I think you’re the one that takes responsibility for it, because, if you’re the chief executive, you have to look at that,” he said.

“I appointed Stuart. I was the one who believed he was the right person for the job.”

Richie arrived at Twickenham from an equally well-appointed establishment a few miles away in SW19, where since 2005 he was CEO at The All England Club and oversaw, among many things, the building of the sliding roof on Centre Court.

But he and the RFU’s heavy-hitters will be feeling anxiety over England’s predicament.Lancaster would have heard their apprehension first-hand when Richie arrived to the England camp on the Monday after the Wales defeat for a “review.”

Lancaster was duly asked whether he was confident all of the RFU was behind him.

“That’s an inspiring thought,” he quipped trying to draw some heat from the question.

"In my time as coach I've been very lucky . . . I've had a very strong axis [at RFU]. Jason Leonard is president, Bill Beaumont is chairman and Richie is CEO.

“Ian came in to review on Monday and he’s been in previous reviews and meetings and understands what’s been said and how I’ve addressed the defeat or the victory. The exec team has been fantastic.”

Had he spoken to Richie about what’s at stake on Saturday? “Not specifically. We’re obviously aware of what’s at stake. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work it out.

“But there’s not been any further conversation about the ramifications of defeat or victory. If I, as the head coach, have to start thinking about what happens here or there, I can’t get the players in the right place and that’s the most important thing.”

Exactly what was said we'll never know but Lancaster, Robshaw, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph all arrived for their media duties with similar messages, which was that for 55 minutes England were in control and leading against Wales.

Cavalry coming

Take the good, discard the bad. That’s what they are drawing on. What is more concerning is that the return of Joseph, a 24-year-old with 13 caps and who has never played against Australia, is being regarded as the cavalry coming over the horizon. He had the sense to modestly explain that’s not how he sees it.

“I’ll just play the way I play,” he said, which would be good for England if Australia allow him the ball.

All of them know the price that will be paid for failure and although the week tapered off to something less hysterical than what went before, Lancaster was reminded that he could take the rugby team to join football and cricket in a hellish-blessed trinity – out of world tournaments at the earliest possible stage.

“Of course, it’s played on my mind,” he said. “It prays on your mind from the minute the draw was made. I understand where the accountability and responsibility lies.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times