So, should it be Lancaster or Mallett?

Chris Hewett tidies up the remaining questions over the England coaching job

Q: Credentials, credentials. If Nick Mallett, the man of the world, has them in spades and Stuart Lancaster, the man in the background, has none to speak of, why is there a debate?

A: It depends what you mean by credentials, and whether they maintain their value over time. Nick Mallett, not only a man of the world but a man of World Cups, coached one of the most successful Springbok sides in history, stringing together a record-equalling run of victories and shepherding them to a global semi-final they might easily have won. But that was in the late 1990s, since when a fair bit has happened. His four-year spell with Italy was not a complete failure – maybe not a failure of any kind, given his starting point – but it yielded only three Six Nations victories. And there are some in Azzurri circles who feel he might have spent more time watching players and less time on the golf course.

Lancaster does not compare when it comes to negotiating the highways and byways of Test rugby, although an 80 per cent success rate across his first five internationals suggests he can get from A to B without recourse to a satellite navigation system. But he has credentials of his own, which happen to be different to Mallett's. For one thing, he knows his players. For another, he understands the way the Rugby Football Union operates – no small thing, given the governing body's well-deserved reputation as the most brutal employer since the Pharoahs.

 

Q: Fair enough. But if Mallett was a "no-brainer" appointment before Christmas, why should he suddenly drift in the betting just because Lancaster had a good run?

A: Mallett was indeed the obvious go-to man when Martin Johnson resigned as manager after finding himself dangerously exposed to the toxic fallout of the World Cup campaign. What did England require? A good kicking, basically. The players needed to have their fortunes told, their consciences pricked, their egos deflated and their heads bashed together. Mallett, an intelligent and articulate individual who positively oozes authority, was precisely the sort to impose some discipline, set some boundaries and establish a few ground rules.

But initially, the Hertfordshire-born South African ruled himself out of contention, thereby creating a vacuum. And we all know what happens to vacuums. By the time his supporters on the RFU talked him round, Lancaster, together with Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, was preparing to do all the above in his own, honest-to-goodness, man-of-the-soil style. How successful was he? Put it this way: Mallett could not have done it better.

 

Q: So the England players have their feet back on the ground. Good. But isn't there more to be done? Second in the Six Nations may not mean much when they visit South Africa in June and play three games against a proper team.

A: In fairness, Wales can claim to be a proper team – and they needed a little help from on high (from the television match official as well as the Almighty) to find their way out of Twickenham with a win. But yes, the Springboks will be a different proposition, even if they are in a state of flux, and Mallett understands more about South African rugby than most. It is also true to say that the one part of England's game that remains seriously underdeveloped is the attacking bit, three jaw-dropping tries against France notwithstanding.

However, there is precious little in Mallett's track record to suggest he is Carwyn James incarnate. Few people have ever mistaken his teams for the Harlem Globetrotters; in fact, there are a number of extremely good judges who dismiss him as an arch-conservative when it comes to strategy and tactics. Had he taken the job when it was his to take in December, would he have fast-tracked Ben Morgan into the match-day squad or bet his shirt on Owen Farrell?

 

Q: Point taken. But Lancaster has gone out of his way to credit his fellow coaches as equal contributors to the great resurrection. What if Saracens stick to their guns and insist that Andy Farrell stays with them?

A: If Lancaster is appointed head coach on a full-time basis and he wants Farrell alongside him, the RFU will go to Saracens and buy him out of his contract. The Premiership champions are not daft: they will give Farrell their blessing. The more pertinent question is whether Farrell, relatively new to coaching, feels he would take the right turning on the career path by walking away from day-to-day duties now.

Should he decide against throwing in his lot with the national team, the Wayne Smith Alternative would come into play. The New Zealander severed his links with the All Blacks after the World Cup triumph in October, but has openly declared his wish to be back in international coaching with someone or other in good time for the 2015 tournament in England. Just about the most popular back-room man in the sport, he is also among the most able. With Smith, Farrell might not be missed.

Q: Would Smith really work under Lancaster? Aren't we talking about a coach of Mallett-like stature here?

A: Funny you should say that. The Mallett-Smith ticket was the preferred choice of many an RFU insider before the Six Nations, and there are still some at Twickenham who see it as the way forward. But there is no reason to think Smith would reject out of hand a role with the current coaching team.

Indeed, there are those in favour of keeping the current trio together and adding him as a specialist attack coach. It might be an expensive option but while the RFU is short of many things, a ready supply of cash is not one of them.

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

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore