Six Nations 2013: Graham Rowntree regrets describing England as 'in the gutter'

Coach made statement following disastrous World Cup

Graham Rowntree regrets describing England as having been “in the gutter” following the 2011 World Cup, chiefly because it he did not intend it to sound like a criticism of his close friend Martin Johnson.

But Rowntree was right. The image of English rugby was grubby, tarnished by the national team's antics at the World Cup and by the bitter infighting at Twickenham which precipitated a managerial meltdown.

The Rugby Football Union instituted a "reputational damage rebuild plan" - consultancy jargon for "how do we get out of this mess?" - and central to it was the appointment of Stuart Lancaster as interim head coach.

That was just 15 months ago. England now sit on the brink of winning their first Grand Slam in a decade. Lancaster has spearheaded a radical about-turn in both the image and fortunes of English rugby.

But how did he do it?

Lancaster had been in New Zealand during the World Cup in his previous role as head of elite development. He knew from first-hand experience that the only way forward for England was to start afresh.

That meant a new team and a new attitude. He recognised the English rugby public had lost faith in the national team. His first task was to rebuild that connection and instil a new culture within the squad.

Lancaster may not have had the international reputation of a Nick Mallett, one of his rivals for the position, but he had spent a lifetime studying coaching and management. He knows how to build a team.

Fifteen members of that World Cup squad were axed immediately with more to follow over the course of 2012 and the traditional pre-Six Nations training camp in Portugal was cancelled.

Lancaster took his squad to Leeds. They ran open training sessions and coaching forums and all while he was setting out the ground rules for his new England.

Discipline was everything, as Danny Care discovered when he was dropped from the squad after being arrested - and subsequently convicted - of drink driving.

It was a big call from Lancaster but it set the tone. The squad have a motto which is "England 365". Wherever they are, they must hold themselves as England players.

Those standards are set from within, by senior players who embody Lancaster's philosophy. his "generals" Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Geoff Parling, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt.

The identity of Lancaster's England team was really forged in the furnace of Test rugby. He had demanded passion and commitment from his team and that began to shine through on the field.

They battled past Scotland and Italy before achieving landmark victories over France away and Ireland at home to finish second in the 2012 Six Nations.

England were beaten only by the eventual Grand Slam champions Wales in a thrillingly tight contest at Twickenham. It was after the Six Nations that Rowntree hailed Lancaster for dragging England out of the gutter.

He said it pressed Lancaster's case for the permanent job, which he was subsequently given ahead of Mallett and, according to some reports, Sir Clive Woodward.

It worked. Lancaster got the job and he is now in charge of all elite rugby at Twickenham, both England head coach and national performance director. It has been a rapid rise.

Arguably Lancaster's most important decision was to recruit Andy Farrell, whose impact on England cannot be overstated. He has been a driving force behind the development of this team.

Farrell missed the summer tour of South Africa, a trip which proved to be one of the key staging posts in the development of this team. Having suffered two brutal defeats to the Springboks, they came back to draw the third Test.

Last autumn, England responded to two frustrating defeats to beat world champions New Zealand by a record margin. That was a game-changing performance. England suddenly knew what they were capable of.

"We showed this is a team that does not fold under pressure," Farrell said.

The confidence ran into the Six Nations. England took their attacking game to a new level as they put four tries past Scotland but it was their bedrock qualities of character, resilience and defensive fortitude which set up this Grand Slam shot.

Lancaster rated England's 12-6 victory over Ireland in Dublin as their biggest test of character and they built on that with a 23-13 win against France, having spent most of the game on the back foot.

"At the start, we didn't know what we were ourselves. What has grown now is that self-belief," Farrell said.

"We know we're a good side. We know we're hard to beat. We haven't lost away from home in the Six Nations for the last two years.

"Each time we are confronted with these situations, we keep getting better and stronger."

England are now 80 minutes away from winning the Grand Slam. All those memories of Queenstown, dwarves, grainy CCTV footage, drunken players and ferry diving have been consigned to a miserable chapter of history.

This team is the future. Win or not on Saturday, Lancaster is on course to achieve his aim of being in the top two in the world by the 2015 World Cup on home soil.

PA

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas