Forget the All Blacks here come the All Whites
Head coach Lancaster insists on going back to England's traditional shirt as he learns from champions how to be the best
Stuart Lancaster wants England to be an all-white version of the New Zealand All Blacks as his team kick off a home run towards what they hope will be a World Cup win in the autumn of 2015.
England are hosting the global tournament two years from now, and Lancaster intends to "maximise home-field advantage" in the knowledge that his team will play 20 of their next 30 matches at Twickenham if they reach the final.
The Cumbrian head coach is ramming home to his players the "identity" of England by insisting they play in their traditional white for the rest of this season and ditch the controversial commercially-driven practice of wearing a change strip during next month's Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.
Other schemes include a first re-design of the Twickenham changing rooms since Sir Clive Woodward's time in charge a decade ago.
And Lancaster is unashamedly learning lessons from the reigning world champion All Blacks as he seeks to knock them off their perch.
"We've gone through a big period of transition with a young squad," he said. "I want to do more work with the players on the culture and identity of England – to talk about it with them, and see it grow.
"It is a big thing for me in the next 12 months, that we really build on that and maximise the home field advantage and try and really connect the team to the English rugby public and sporting public."
Lancaster used a visit to New Zealand in August to tap into the psyche of rugby's most consistent winners.
His squad will be going there for a tough tour of three Tests next June.
"I met Sir Brian Lochore, an icon of New Zealand rugby, to understand more about the DNA of that team, that country," Lancaster said.
"I went to a schools' game and did a 'coach the coaches' evening. You are watching an under-18 game and it is on their equivalent of Sky and there are 5,000 watching it. You can see why it is in their blood.
"It confirmed what I already thought. They have a very strong emphasis on culture and identity. The shirt means a huge amount to them. The identity of playing for New Zealand is a big driver."
Before anyone accuses Lancaster of looking everywhere but within for improvement, he emphasised: "The most important bit obviously is getting selection and game plan right."
But his reasoning for imitating the All Blacks is that they are the most consistently successful team on the planet – in any sport.
"In world sport I would ask whether there is a better team – I am not sure there is," Lancaster said.
"The proof was in South Africa [last weekend], when everything was pointing to New Zealand being beaten but they found a way to win.
"We are saying to our players we need them to be good in every component piece in their game, and have an x-factor in two. We have some players who have an x-factor in two but perhaps aren't excellent in every area. The Kiwis have got players who are good in every area and have the x-factor as well."
It does not hurt Lancaster that England's most notable win under his 22-month tenure was over the All Blacks at Twickenham last November – New Zealand's only loss in their last 30 Test matches.
John Bull esquire would be much less likely to stomach England overtly taking tips from Wales – who thrashed Lancaster's team in March's Grand Slam decider in Cardiff – or France, who were England's other most notable conquests under Lancaster's leadership in Paris in March 2012.
Lancaster intends to lift his squad again when they meet in Leeds on 21 October with nerve-tingling first-hand experience from a group of ex-players with more than 100 caps between them across four decades from the 1950s.
"I wrote and asked them if they'd help us reconnect with what happened with England in the past," Lancaster said.
"To a man, they wrote back and said 'love to help'. We've met them and asked what it meant to play for England, what do they want to see from this England team now."
Lancaster will be telling the current players that England must be their "second club", using phrases such as 'England 365' and 'England Connected' to remind them they are never off national duty and should never forget their roots.
The new white jersey made by Canterbury may have cuffs that oddly resemble in-memoriam black armbands but it has the St George's flag stitched into it.
"Rugby's an emotional game, you have to be committed to your team-mates," Lancaster said.
"You play for your family and friends who have supported you and then you play for the crowd, to give the crowd a real reason to support the team.
"The energy the crowd gave the team when we beat New Zealand last year is something we hadn't seen before.
"Wales had the same when we played them in the Millennium Stadium.
"Part of developing a winning team is having that connection with people. People are upset if they don't see the players sing the national anthem. And the players get it. They don't play for England, they represent England."
It's no surprise thatLancaster would follow Arsenal's manager Arsène Wenger in frowning on a player smoking.
"I'd be disappointed, for health reasons first and foremost," Lancaster said. "Also you have a responsibility to try and inspire young people. I've never seen anyone smoke but I don't follow them round, 24-7. I'd have a chat, definitely, as Arsène Wenger clearly has done. It's a small price to pay when you're living a dream, playing a sport you love and getting paid for it."
For his part Lancaster has had what he calls "a big say" in ditching the practice of England wearing a change strip in the November QBE Internationals, for no reason other than boosting Christmas kit sales.
The garish new predominantly red England change jersey is, ironically, supposed to be a nod to history. It costs £90 for the replica match shirt and £55 for the everyday version.
Angry supporters protested to the RFU last year when the alternative jersey in "regal purple" – likened by England captain Chris Robshaw to an old Arsenal kit – was worn against Australia when there was no colour clash.
And the RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie let it be known he considered the all black change kit used for the 2011 World Cup was an error of judgment by the previous kit suppliers Nike that Martin Johnson, then the England manager, went along with.
England were laughed out of New Zealand over the poor behaviour by some of their players and Lancaster, who took over from Johnson a few weeks later, said: "When we are talking about building this identity I think it pays to play in white.
"We've looked deeper into the history of that shirt. The team's been around since 1875. We'll be playing in white all season and will review it after the summer tour."
Lancaster's recent trip down under included fact-finding visits to the Australian rugby league teams Sydney Roosters, Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs, plus the Aussie Rules outfit Geelong.
Lancaster was not on public duty and his cover was blown hilariously en route from Australia to New Zealand.
"I got on the plane at Melbourne to fly to Wellington and the Australian [rugby union] team were on it. I walked straight into [the Wallaby coach] Ewen McKenzie, he said 'what are you doing here?', and I said, 'I got on this flight from Leeds and I ended up here!' "
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