A few minutes after the victory in Paris that lifted England into the top four of the world rankings, Stuart Lancaster's colleagues, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree, talked of the importance of restoring pride in the jersey. This was not meant merely from the players' perspective but also from that of a public profoundly disenchanted. To that end, Lancaster decided against a trip to Portugal for training and set up camp at a level-eight club on the chill outskirts of Leeds. This, he believed, would serve two purposes: firstly, it would remind the players that the grass-roots game still mattered. Secondly, it would provide an environment in keeping with the down-to-earth gospel he intended to preach.
Lancaster kept the principal contenders for the captaincy – Chris Robshaw of Harlequins (above); Northampton's Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood; Leicester's Tom Croft – in the loop, including them in a "senior players group" and assessing their contributions at the Yorkshire camp. Robshaw was then told, openly, that his position would be reviewed after two games. Against both Scotland and Italy, he carried the ball further and made more tackles than anyone else. Lancaster has not sidestepped the bad news. His decision to jettison Danny Care – the scrum-half who has had drink-related run-ins with the police – was a painful one, for he had worked closely with Care for years.
Lancaster understood the challenge of building "for the future and for now". He dropped players he felt had little or no chance of reaching the 2015 World Cup and promoted those who impressed him at second-string Saxons level, Brad Barritt, Lee Dickson and Phil Dowson among them. He also fast-tracked Ben Morgan, giving the No 8 two runs as a substitute before letting him loose, and threw a fistful of uncapped players into the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield. "There's no point picking them if you don't trust them," he said.
Thanks to Farrell and Rowntree, the head coach has been able to cover an enormous amount of ground unfeasibly quickly. Lancaster says Farrell gives the trio "presence" while Rowntree provides "credibility", and if he sometimes slips into sports psycho-babble, his colleagues speak plain English.
Repeatedly asked about his candidacy for the full-time position, Lancaster has politely declined to comment, citing an unwillingness to compromise the integrity of the process. Integrity? At the RFU? A process? Crikey. Who'd have thought it?
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