Lancaster sidesteps coaching issue with class and humour

England caretaker tries to put focus on Ireland match despite the uncertainty of his future

Stuart Lancaster left the England team hotel late on Tuesday afternoon, drove north up the motorway for a good three hours, spent the night at his home in Leeds, took the kids to school the following morning and drove all the way back again to continue preparations for the Six Nations match against Ireland. "It was the first time I'd been outside the 'bubble' for a while and the first I'd heard of some of the things being said," the caretaker coach said yesterday. "It's nice to have the praise, but it's really not about me."

Lancaster has not been wrong about much in the three months since agreeing to run the show but in terms of public perception, he was spectacularly wrong on this occasion. Victory at Twickenham tomorrow will do far more than guarantee England a high championship finish and protect their position in the top four of the world rankings. It will also add a fresh and perhaps irresistible wave of support to his candidacy for the full-time coaching role, just as a five-man Rugby Football Union panel gather for their final deliberations.

Once again, Lancaster was bombarded with questions he could not answer; once again, he responded good-humouredly while saying double naff-all squared. "This is a fantastic job," he said. "Ask any coach in any sport in the world and they'll all say that working with their national team is the dream job, and I want to speak next week about where England rugby was, where it is now and where it can go. But no one knows at the moment how this is going to play out."

Even when pressed on whether, if asked to continue his good work on a more long-term basis, he would fight to keep the services of his assistant Andy Farrell, he showed nimble footwork unbecoming of the back-row forward he once was. "I'm not surprised Saracens want Andy back," he said, referring to the Premiership champions' declaration that Farrell is under contract and very much their man.

"The first conversation, if it arises, will be between the two of us, but we haven't spoken yet because neither of us has any idea what will happen over the next two, three, four weeks. I have my views, though, and it will be up to me to present them to the interview panel." Then, after a mischievous pause, he added: "If I haven't done so already." Clever.

As expected, the Saracens wing David Strettle will be back in the line-up tomorrow, having missed last weekend's three-try win over France in Paris with a bruised sternum. There is also a place on the bench for the Lions Test hooker Lee Mears, thanks to Rob Webber's shoulder problems. The two front-rowers will be scrapping with each other every week when Webber joins Mears at Bath next season.

With a good deal of focus being centred on Wales and their Grand Slam match with France in Cardiff, the build-up to the England-Ireland business has been slightly less combustible than usual, although Stephen Ferris, the Ulster flanker, did his best to warm things up by using the word "arrogant" in connection with the home team. Lancaster's response to that was considerably more expansive than anything he said on the subject of his future employment prospects.

"I'd be very disappointed if, at the end of this Six Nations, the England side were labelled 'arrogant'," he remarked. "The players are focused and determined, they're proud to be playing for their country and they're developing as a team. We recognise people on the outside have their opinions, but as far as I'm concerned it's back to the old mantra about believing what's inside the team room rather than listening to those on the outside.

"As a coach, I'm always looking for signs of complacency, just as I look for signs of under-confidence. You want to hit that middle ground between confidence and fear of failure – to gauge the mindset in the group and if necessary take action to get them in the right place. I haven't had to do that in this tournament because the spirit has been right. The more you fuel that spirit, the more it grows and the more powerful it becomes, so it's been my job to add in all the little things at the right time."

If England are to win tomorrow, those little things will have to become big things. They have lost seven of their last eight championship games against the Irish and if some of the defeats have been horrible – the 43-13 trauma at Croke Park in 2007 was one of the recent red-rose low points – the sole victory, a 33-10 canter at Twickenham in 2008, was not much fun either, signalling as it did the removal of Brian Ashton as head coach and the muddle-headed establishment of the Martin Johnson regime.

"Ireland do not just have good players, they're clearly very well coached," said Lancaster, who could conceivably win every bit as handsomely tomorrow yet find himself similarly rejected, perish the thought. "It's also true to say that they do certain very specific things differently to any other side in the competition. But as usual, we'll concentrate mostly on our own game. The moment you use the things the opposition might do as your main driver... well, that's not right, in my opinion."

In recent times, England have made precisely that mistake and paid through the nose for their folly. No one, least of all Lancaster, believes this final tournament match will be anything less than extremely tough, but it is a sign of the team's improvement over the course of the championship that everyone considers it to be winnable.

Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own