It's got to be Lancaster! (Or should it be Mallett?)

Chris Hewett tidies up the remaining questions over who should land the England coaching job

Q Credentials, credentials. If Nick Mallett, the man of the world, has them in spades and Stuart Lancaster, the man in the background, has none to speak of, why is there a debate?

AIt depends what you mean by credentials, and whether they maintain their value over time. Mallett, not only a man of the world but a man of World Cups, coached one of the most successful Springbok sides in history, stringing together a record-equalling run of victories and shepherding them to a global semi-final. But that was in the late 1990s, since when a fair bit has happened. His four-year spell with Italy was not a complete failure but it yielded only three Six Nations victories.

Lancaster does not compare when it comes to negotiating the highways and byways of Test rugby, although an 80 per cent success rate across his first five internationals suggests he can get from A to B without recourse to a satellite navigation system. But he has credentials of his own, which happen to be different to Mallett's. For one thing, he knows his players. For another, he understands the way the RFU operates.

 

QFair enough. But if Mallett was a "no-brainer" appointment before Christmas, why should he suddenly drift in the betting just because Lancaster had a good run?

AMallett was indeed the obvious go-to man when Martin Johnson resigned. What did England require? A good kicking, basically. Mallett, an intelligent and articulate individual who positively oozes authority, was precisely the sort to impose some discipline. But initially, the Hertfordshire-born South African ruled himself out of contention. By the time his supporters on the RFU talked him round, Lancaster, together with Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, was preparing to do the above in his own, honest-to-goodness, man-of-the-soil style. How successful was he? Put it this way: Mallett could not have done it better.

 

QSo the England players have their feet back on the ground. Good. But isn't there more to be done? Second in the Six Nations, unexpected though it was, may not mean much when they visit South Africa in June and play against a proper team.

AIn fairness, Wales can claim to be a proper team – and they needed a little help from on high (from the television match official as well as the Almighty) to find their way out of Twickenham with a win. But yes, the Springboks will be a different proposition, and Mallett understands more about South African rugby than most. However, there is precious little in Mallett's track record to suggest he is Carwyn James incarnate; in fact, there are a number of extremely good judges who dismiss him as an arch-conservative when it comes to strategy and tactics. Had he taken the job when it was his to take in December, would he have fast-tracked Ben Morgan into the match-day squad or bet his shirt on Owen Farrell?

 

QPoint taken. But Lancaster has gone out of his way to credit his fellow coaches as equal contributors to the great resurrection. What if Saracens stick to their guns and insist Andy Farrell stays with them?

AIf Lancaster is appointed head coach on a full-time basis and he wants Farrell alongside him, the RFU will go to Saracens and buy him out of his contract. The Premiership champions are not daft: they will give Farrell their blessing. The more pertinent question is whether Farrell feels he would take the right turning on the career path by walking away from day-to-day duties now. Should he decide against throwing in his lot with the national team, the Wayne Smith Alternative would come into play. Just about the most popular back-room man, he is also among the most able. With Smith, Farrell might not be missed.

 

QWould Smith really work under Lancaster? Aren't we talking about a coach of Mallett-like stature here?

AFunny you should say that. The Mallett-Smith ticket was the preferred choice of many an RFU insider before the Six Nations, and there are still some who see it as the way forward. But there is no reason to think Smith would reject out of hand a role with the current coaching team. Indeed, there are those in favour of keeping the current trio together and adding him as a specialist attack coach. It might be an expensive option but while the RFU is short of many things, a ready supply of cash is not one of them.

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