Lancaster refuses to be Care-worn
The scrum-half's latest incident and impending RFU job interview add to coach's heavy workload
Good leaders are said to be able to function on three hours of sleep a night. If only Stuart Lancaster, currently engaged in the process of proving to his Twickenham employers that he is a sufficiently capable coach to lead England to the home World Cup in 2015, had the luxury of spending such vast amounts of time under the duvet.
Yesterday, the caretaker coach found himself balancing preparations for the imminent job interview that could define his career with his response to the news that Danny Care, the Harlequins scrum-half, had committed a third drink-related offence in as many months. Oh yes, almost forgot: he was also up to his eyes in planning for this weekend's important Six Nations match with France in Paris – not to mention the final-round meeting with Ireland six days later.
Ian Ritchie, the newly-installed Rugby Football Union chief executive, said last week that Lancaster, one of only two men known for sure to be on the shortlist for the full-time role of head coach, might well be interviewed before the end of the tournament. If, as Lancaster justifiably assumes, Ritchie takes England's training programme into consideration before summoning him for an interrogation, there are only a couple of likely dates: this coming Thursday or Wednesday of next week.
Lancaster was diplomacy personified when asked whether he could conceivably present himself in the best possible light while plotting the downfall of a team who went within a single score of winning the World Cup in New Zealand as recently as last October and have not lost a Six Nations game on home soil since Brian Ashton's red-rose side found a way past them in 2008. "Yes, I believe so," he said. "There is only so much you can do in any one training week and, anyway, there are things I can't control and this is one of them. We'll have to see how the timings work out."
Given the RFU's inexplicable desperation to identify a head coach before the end of the championship, which Lancaster's side could still win if they eke out a result in Paris, the latest booze-fuelled incident involving Care was the last thing anyone needed. The half-back was cautioned by British Transport Police at the weekend after being caught urinating against a building after a night out in Leeds.
It was hardly of the same magnitude as his previous misdemeanours – fined for being drunk and disorderly before Christmas, he landed himself in court on a drink-driving charge following an arrest in the early hours of New Year's Day – and Care argued that "the issue was more one of a small bladder than of excessive drinking". The Harlequins director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, coincidentally one of the five men who will interview the candidates for the England coaching post, said the club would take no action.
But Lancaster, who jettisoned Care from the Six Nations squad after the drink-drive arrest, said would be having a "long talk" with the player.
"From a public profile point of view, there is a responsibility that goes with the job of being a professional sportsman," the coach said. "You can't curb people's social habits to the extent that they don't go out at all, but this is another unfortunate incident that could and should have been avoided. Knowing Danny as I do, I don't think he has a drink problem. I do think he has a long-term future as an England player. But he has to make better decisions. As an international player under scrutiny all the time, he doesn't want to be putting himself in difficult positions."
Most specifically, perhaps, putting himself up against a wall.
There was some positive news yesterday, despite the flurry of bad news concerning various injured members of the England squad: the Northampton lock Courtney Lawes and the Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson, will both be out of circulation for weeks to come, along with Harlequins hooker Chris Brooker, who suffered a serious knee injury at the weekend. However, No 8 Ben Morgan will play for Gloucester next season after finalising a move from the Llanelli-based Scarlets. "I'm pleased that Ben is coming back to play his club rugby in England," Lancaster said. Harlequins' scrum-half Karl Dickson and Wasps' forward Joe Launchbury were added to the squad as cover for Simpson and Lawes.
Philippe Saint-André, the France coach, named an unchanged squad for Sunday's match after resisting the temptation to recall scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, who proved his fitness after injury by scoring 25 match-winning points for Biarritz at the weekend. Ireland have lost their captain, Paul O'Connell, and their scrum-half, Conor Murray, for the rest of the Six Nations. Both suffered knee injuries in the draw in France two days ago.
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