Lancaster will be happy if Stuarts can make history
Suddenly, Stuart Lancaster is the experienced one – an unusual situation for a man 80 minutes into his career as an international coach, but true all the same. Joined at the top end of English sport, in a similar caretaker capacity, by Stuart Pearce following the resignation of Fabio Capello as manager of the national football team, Lancaster spent a good deal of yesterday insisting that his colleague in adversity was absolutely the right choice to plot a route through the minefield.
"I know Stuart pretty well," Lancaster said, after naming an unchanged team for tomorrow's difficult Six Nations meeting with Italy in Rome. "He's not just an ex-footballer who's become a coach. He's far, far more than that. He's the ideal person to step in because he understands the environment – he's been involved with, and is respected by, the players. When you understand the culture, you have a chance to help shape it.
"I suppose he's in a very similar situation to me and if he asks for advice, I'll do my best. I suspect the England football dynamic is a complicated one and it's important that he brings his own philosophy and his own views to the job of solving whatever problems he finds there."
The two men go back a fair way: while coaching England Under-21s last year, Pearce accepted Lancaster's invitation to speak to the second-string Saxons on motivation and "pride in the shirt". He was also in touch with Lancaster a few days back, wishing him luck ahead of the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield. "I've been very fortunate to spend time with the Under-21 footballers in their camp and listen in on their meetings," Lancaster said. "Stuart has done the same with us. He's certainly a coach who is very open to learning."
By resisting any temptation he might have had to change a winning unit – the coach might have promoted Ben Morgan at No 8 ahead of Phil Dowson, but decided against it – Lancaster has been true to his principles. Those trying to play their way into the team should, he considers, have to sweat for it. Equally, he believes that as no one deliberately tries to play their way out of the team, there must always be very good reasons for wielding the selectorial axe.
This, he thinks, is the best way to restore a sense of honour to a team who returned from last year's World Cup bemused, bothered and besmirched.
"I want to see a repeat of the discipline we showed in Edinburgh, which was excellent," he said. "It's something on which we've really focused. The need for off-field discipline was hammered into the players when we had our World Cup review during the pre-Six Nations camp. Aligned with that is the on-field discipline. We've worked hard on our relationship with referees – Graham Rowntree [the forwards coach] has done a fantastic job on that, I have to say – and we've made it clear to them that unnecessary penalties won't be tolerated. If we'd been ill-disciplined at Murrayfield, we'd have conceded four or five penalties that would probably have cost us the game."
Yesterday, there was more talk of what it takes to build a successful side. "We discussed the state-of-mind stuff again this morning," the coach said. "What does pride in the shirt look like? What does professionalism look like, or commitment? These are the types of things we're looking at, and it isn't a case of me telling the players. This is the players telling the coaches what these values look like."
Injury doubts surrounding the starting fly-half, Charlie Hodgson, who damaged a shoulder in Scotland, and the scrum-half understudy Lee Dickson, who fractured a bone in his left hand, eased in time for Lancaster to stick to his guns. The coach expects a serious challenge at Stadio Olimpico, but believes his players are better equipped to deal with it than they would have been this time a week ago.
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