Lee Dickson: 'The entire squad hopes that Stuart gets the job full-time'

Outspoken scrum-half Lee Dickson tells Chris Hewett why Lancaster is the right man and why he always believed he could make it with England – even when others did not

Lee Dickson's experiences in an England shirt over the last seven weeks have confirmed him in his long-held suspicion that experience is not all it's cracked up to be. "All the time, you hear people talking about the importance of having dozens of caps, as if you can't make an impact in the international game unless you've been doing it for years," says the Northampton scrum-half. "I always believed I could play Test rugby, that I could handle the magnitude of it, even when people were smacking me down and rejecting me. How is my self-belief, now I've had a taste? Massive. How was it before I had a taste? Massive."

Twelve months ago, the 26-year-old son of a high-ranking Royal Signals officer was starting to believe in something other than himself: namely, the existence of Sod's Law. He was playing the best, most energetically relentless club rugby of his life – be it in the Premiership or the Heineken Cup, he was the union code's physical embodiment of the Noel Coward dictum that "work is much more fun than fun" – but the steep pathway to England recognition seemed impassable. Martin Johnson, the national manager, was interested only in running half-backs like Ben Youngs, Danny Care and Joe Simpson, largely because there was no running going on anywhere else in his team, and on his own admission, Dickson was not a runner. A tireless pusher, prodder, badgerer and distributor... yes, he was all of those things. Unfortunately for him, they were the things Johnson felt he did not need.

"What can I do about it? Nothing, except the obvious: keep playing well and hope someone gives me a call," he said at the time, in an interview with this newspaper. Happily, both things happened. Dickson kept his side of the bargain by continuing to drive Northampton onwards and upwards in a style based on the principles of perpetual motion, and finally, he received the call of his dream. Not from Johnson, but from Stuart Lancaster, with whom he had worked at second-string Saxons level. Unsurprisingly, he considers himself to be in Lancaster's debt.

"Stuart is one of the people who never rejected me," he says. "There have been a few: Martin Pepper, who coached me when I was a pupil at Barnard Castle School; John Fletcher at Newcastle; Jim Mallinder at Northampton. But it wasn't always like that – I haven't always been surrounded by people who were prepared to show faith in me. In my late teens, when I was trying to make my way in age-group representative rugby, I was often told I wasn't good enough – that I couldn't do this or wasn't able to do that. Rejection has been a huge driver for me, but personal drive is not always enough. Sometimes, you need a really supportive coach to help you take a step forward. Over the last few weeks, Stuart has done that. He's been brilliant."

All of which begs the obvious question: who, in his opinion, should be the new full-time England coach? Players with both eyes on security of international tenure have been known to avoid such sensitive queries, but Dickson does not hesitate for a second in answering, not only for himself but for everyone else. "I'd like to give an opinion, definitely," he responds. "I think I speak for all of us when I say I hope Stuart gets the job. The whole set-up has been outstanding – Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell have been incredibly positive and, together with Stuart, they've proved their value. Having worked with Stuart previously, I knew what he was about and had every confidence that he'd do a good job. Now, it's up to us to do a job for him and his colleagues by beating Ireland. We all know that another victory this weekend will strengthen his case."

This time last year, Dickson was self-containment made flesh. "I base myself on myself," he replied when asked if there was a scrum-half role model at the heart of his sporting development. Now, he acknowledges the influence of one England No 9 in particular: Matt Dawson, the World Cup-winner and Test Lion who spent years coaxing and cajoling the Northampton forwards in much the same way as Dickson does now.

"I admired Matt's rugby when he was playing and he has been good enough to discuss a few things with me and give me some pointers since the start of the Six Nations," Dickson says. "I think he sees certain similarities between the way he played and the way I'm trying to play, and when I look at the career he had, I don't see how I can go too far wrong by following his advice."

The similarities he speaks of are obvious. Dawson was a hugely capable all-round games player, while Dickson was a top-class squash player and a good enough footballer to spend time in camp with the Manchester City youth set-up. Dawson's mastery of the tap penalty routine was of incalculable benefit to England over the years; Dickson pulls the same trick at least once a game. And if Dawson was not as quick across the ground as Austin Healey or as technically accomplished as his great rival Kyran Bracken, he held the trump card in terms of rugby's intangibles: the three Bs of brashness, bolshiness and bloody-mindedness. "He was," says Dickson, "a dog. I like to think of myself in the same way. As a scrum-half, it's good to be very loud, a little obnoxious and have some real bite about you as a competitor."

There is nothing of the loner about England's new half-back, who successfully presented his case for a place in the starting team with an eye-catching contribution off the bench against Italy in Rome and made the most of his opportunity by taking the fight to Wales at Twickenham a fortnight later. Rather, he is at his happiest in the kind of positive, mutually supportive environment created by Lancaster. The seeds of this were sown at school. He suffered with dyslexia in his early teens – Chris Robshaw, the current red-rose captain, had similar issues at a similar age – but responded so well to the pastoral assistance offered by Barnard Castle that he romped through his exams.

"One of the things that strikes me most about this England squad is the complete absence of the 'our club, your club' thing," he says. "At Northampton, we have an intense rivalry with Leicester, but it's not mentioned when we're here." Does that mean he won't mind if his clubmates finish second to the Tigers in tomorrow's Anglo-Welsh Cup final at the Sixways stadium in Worcester? "Ah, that's different," he replies. "Actually, we'll all be there: the Northampton lot, the Leicester lot. We're travelling in different cars, but we're bound to be sitting next to each other for the game. I imagine there'll be some words exchanged then, but hey... the Six Nations will be over, won't it?"

What will not be over, if Dickson has anything to do with it, is his international career. He fully intends to be the No 1 choice when England visit South Africa for the most demanding of three-Test series in the summer. More than that, he fancies himself as a red-rose contender for years to come. "I've waited a long time to get my hands on this shirt," he says, "so I'm not thinking of letting it go soon. Yes, I've been around for a while, but I'm not exactly old."

Indeed not. He turns 27 at the end of this month, but while Youngs, his most obvious immediate rival for the position, is only 22, he has the best part of three years on another of the scrum-halves in the current England training squad. This happens to be his brother Karl, whose excellent recent showings for Harlequins have pushed him up the pecking order.

"It's nice to see Karl making it happen for himself – he's worked hard and he deserves it," says Dickson Minor. "He is, however, getting on a bit. He'll be 30 this year. The big three-oh. Make sure you put that in the paper. It'll wind him up." Truly, he is more like Dawson than he knows, and he may just get on the nerves of a few Irishmen this evening.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments