England coach Stuart Lancaster content despite setback in recruitment process for assistant


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The Independent Online

England head coach Stuart Lancaster is convinced his plans are still on course despite a second setback in his bid to recruit an additional assistant.

Lancaster announced today former New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith had rejected the opportunity to join his backroom staff in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup for family reasons.

Smith's decision to remain in New Zealand comes after Andy Farrell also turned down a permanent position to stay in the domestic game with Saracens.

On a more positive note, World Cup-winner Mike Catt will leave London Irish to take up a short-term coaching position for this summer's tour to South Africa.

Lancaster now intends to put the issue aside and concentrate on the three Tests against the Springboks in June.

He said: "Wayne Smith rang this morning and he is staying in New Zealand.

"We had a great meeting in South Africa and he has had a long, hard think.

"We had a good chat but for family reasons - his parents are close to him and his sons are at university over there - he feels it is best to stay there.

"It is clearly disappointing. There are other coaches out there but in the short term we want to invest our time in working hard to get the South Africa tour party ready.

"That experience he would have brought would have been greatly beneficial but I had a long conversation with him and fully respect his decision.

"He was very complimentary about the way we are going and he drew a lot of comparisons with where they [New Zealand] were in 2004 and made their cultural shift.

"I do think we are on the right track and part of my task is to get that right coaching balance going forward. That will be post-South Africa."

Lancaster has indicated that Catt, having been appointed until June 30, now has an opportunity to press his claims for the post full-time.

South Africa-born Catt boasts strong credentials from his playing days, having made 75 appearances for England and been part of the 2003 World Cup-winning side.

He will leave Irish next week join a coaching staff which also includes Graham Rowntree and specialists Jon Callard and Simon Hardy.

Lancaster said: "I will review the coaching situation at the end of the tour, four months before the autumn internationals.

"It is a great opportunity for Mike. We will see how we go. What I won't be doing now is charging around the world looking for other coaches. I will be concentrating on South Africa.

"Mike played for England for 12 years and has a wealth of experience.

"He has played in South Africa and been with the Lions. It will be really exciting to work with him."

Catt is now preparing for his final Aviva Premiership game with Irish against Gloucester this weekend and admits he will leave with a heavy heart.

The 40-year-old said: "I was very impressed with England during the Six Nations, not just the way they played but the culture that is developing, and hopefully I can complement what Stuart and Graham are doing.

"There are some talented young players coming through and the chance to work with them for the Barbarians game and the tour is really exciting.

"It has been a difficult decision and I will be sad to leave London Irish."

Lancaster, who was confirmed permanently in his position last month after serving in an interim capacity during the last Six Nations Championship, claims there is nothing sinister to read into Smith's decision.

Smith, who was one of the masterminds behind New Zealand's World Cup success last year, is currently working with the Waikato Chiefs.

Steve Tew, the chief executive of New Zealand Rugby Union, described Smith as one of the country's "intellectual properties" but Lancaster does not think he was under external pressure to stay.

Lancaster said: "I don't think there was undue pressure. He is a highly respected coach over there and he has got great experience of how they have been successful.

"Quite rightly people will encourage him to stay but I don't think that was the reason.

"His parents are quite elderly and his sons are at university. I think they had a family discussion and while they might have supported him I think, deep down, they didn't want him to go.

"I think that was the bottom line."