Five things Stuart Lancaster must do to finally end England losing streak

Red-rose have now lost five successive matches

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1) Sort out the midfield  merry-go-round

Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, is in Tony Blair territory, not simply because he has enjoyed an unusually long honeymoon (and deservedly so), but also because his priority is so blindingly obvious. Instead of “education, education, education”, it is a case of “midfield, midfield, midfield”.

The national team are playing catch-up in this area, and not playing it very well. Things will improve at outside centre – Manu Tuilagi, Luther Burrell and the rejuvenated Jonathan Joseph are decent options when fit and in form – but the age-old questions at No 12 still need answering and there are growing concerns over Owen Farrell’s off-colour performances at No 10.

England need variety in their kicking game, as well as in their work with ball in hand, so the continuing marginalisation of Billy Twelvetrees is beginning to look seriously ridiculous. Twelvetrees is error-prone, but he alone has the full range of required skills. Lancaster should also give George Ford a proper run at outside-half while keeping a close eye on Danny Cipriani’s progress at Sale.


2) Settle the scrum-half debate

Danny Care has had a good run under Lancaster, but his weak kicking game has been exposed over the last couple of weekends: first by Aaron Smith of New Zealand, then by Cobus Reinach of South Africa.

If the selectors do not trust Ben Youngs in the position and are losing interest in Lee Dickson, they should turn to Richard Wigglesworth of Saracens and tell him he has a job to do. He may not be a running No 9, but he can at least put the ball on a sixpence and put his forwards where they want to be.

3) Sort out Steffon

It rumbles on, the Steffon Armitage argument, and it will continue to rumble right the way through to the World Cup unless England start stringing some results together.

The highly effective, occasionally troublesome Toulon flanker continues to play the house down on the Côte d’Azur and it may be that Schalk Burger, outstanding for the Springboks on Saturday, would have had less joy on the floor had Armitage been the one trying to out-hunt him. If Lancaster is even remotely thinking about a change of policy on exiled players, he should not wait until May before saying so. Either bring him back for the Six Nations, or not at all.

4) Make Vunipola vanish (just a little)

Is Billy Vunipola really fit enough for Test rugby? Privately, the All Blacks are far from convinced – and as they are usually right about everything, it’s probably worth listening to them when they say he needs trimming down. The Saracens No 8 looks like a world-beater when he’s playing on his own terms, but his ground coverage in defence leaves lots to be desired and he shows no sign of being an 80-minute contributor. How often do the world champions replace Kieran Read after 50-odd minutes? Exactly.

5) Wallop the Wallabies

Assuming England see off the Samoans this weekend – and it seems inevitable, given the political ructions in the islanders’ camp – the set-to with Australia on Saturday week will be the most important of Lancaster’s stewardship. A third autumn defeat, with an after-dark meeting with Wales in Cardiff next up, could send red-rose affairs into a tailspin, so the phrase “must-win game” definitely applies. The coach already knows that this will be a test of his selectorial gifts. No pressure, then.