'It's a privilege – but also a huge responsibility'


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The Independent Online

When the great and good of Twickenham came to appointing a head coach to guide England to a home World Cup in 2015, Stuart Lancaster was supported by the five men who interviewed him and by the management board which endorsed the choice.

The Cumbrian's performance during an exhaustive application process was very nearly as assured as his negotiation of the Six Nations Championship – his first coaching at full international level, following a decade-long apprenticeship with age-group, club and England Saxons teams.

"It was our task to find the best man for the job," said Ian Ritchie, below, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union. Lancaster's principal opponent was the South African Nick Mallett, who coached the Springboks in the late 1990s and took Italy to last year's World Cup in New Zealand.

"After the Ireland game, I wasn't sure I'd be sitting here," Lancaster said. "Now, it's a matter of finding words to describe how I feel. Two words spring to mind: honour and privilege. I'm also aware of the huge responsibility I carry. I want us to play with pride; I want us all to buy into the vision of winning the next World Cup; and I want to build a team who play without fear."

Neither Lancaster nor Ritchie could offer any update, although the world knows that Lancaster wants to retain the Six Nations unit of Graham Rowntree, the forwards specialist, and Andy Farrell, who ran the backs and the defence. Rowntree has declared his willingness to stay on and he is on the RFU payroll. Farrell is contracted to Saracens for two years.

"It's a classic 'one step at a time' situation," Ritchie said. "These things will be done in due course, in the proper way. We haven't made any approach to Saracens as yet."

Mallett was interviewed last week by Ritchie and his advisers: the Bath director of rugby, Sir Ian McGeechan; his Harlequins counterpart, Conor O'Shea; the World Cup-winning flanker Richard Hill; and the RFU's professional rugby director, Rob Andrew.

Lancaster's first challenge will be Tests in Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth and midweek games in Kimberley and Bloemfontein in June.

"It's a huge challenge," Lancaster said. "But we'll be undertaking a forensic analysis of the Springboks and while I'm not naive enough to predict five wins from five, I'm very optimistic that we'll be competitive."