Stuart Lancaster left the England hotel late on Tuesday, drove to Leeds, took the kids to school the next morning and drove all the way back again to continue preparations for the Six Nations match against Ireland. "It was the first time I'd been outside the 'bubble' for a while and the first I'd heard of some of the things being said," the caretaker coach said. "It's nice to have the praise, but it's really not about me."
Lancaster (right) has not been wrong about much recently, he was spectacularly wrong on this occasion. Victory at Twickenham tomorrow will do far more than protect England's position in the top four of the world rankings. It will also add to his candidacy for the full-time coaching role, just as a five-man Rugby Football Union panel gather for their final deliberations.
"This is a fantastic job," he said. "Ask any coach in any sport and they'll all say that working with their national team is the dream job. But no one knows how this is going to play out."
When pressed on whether he would fight to keep the services of his assistant Andy Farrell, he said: "I'm not surprised Saracens want Andy back. I have my views and it will be up to me to present them to the interview panel." Then, after a mischievous pause, he added: "If I haven't done so already." Clever.
As expected, the Saracens wing David Strettle will face the Irish, having missed last weekend's three-try win in Paris with a bruised sternum. There is also a place on the bench for the Lions hooker Lee Mears, thanks to Rob Webber's shoulder problems.
Stephen Ferris, the Ireland flanker, recently used the word "arrogant" in connection with the home team. Lancaster said: "I'd be very disappointed if, at the end of this Six Nations, the England side were labelled 'arrogant'. The players are focused and determined. As a coach, I'm always looking for signs of complacency, just as I look for signs of under-confidence. You want to gauge the mindset and if necessary take action. I haven't had to do that because the spirit has been right."
England have lost seven of their last eight championship games against the Irish and no one believes this fmatch will be anything less than extremely tough. But it is a sign of the team's improvement that everyone considers it to be winnable.Reuse content