Brian Ashton: Coach should be English, and Stuart Lancaster is correct choice

Tackling The Issues

In applauding Stuart Lancaster's appointment as England head coach through to the next World Cup and a few weeks beyond – and yes, I believe the Rugby Football Union's choice to be a positive one – I'd like to make a couple of broader points. Firstly, I find it reassuring that we have an Englishman in charge of the team. I'm not arguing that nationality alone should be the deal-breaker on these occasions, but it's good to see some renewed faith in our coach education system. Stuart is a product of that system and I hope it will go from strength to strength now the powers-that-be have backed it with this decision.

Secondly, I like the fact that Stuart comes from a teaching background. If it is the job of a teacher to be a good organiser, he must also be an excellent communicator who is skilled at creating a learning environment.

There are lots of career coaches who have a strong grasp of organisation, while not possessing the accompanying virtues. High-level coaching is not merely about tactics and strategy. It is, to a very significant degree, about making good players better. Once you understand that, you must surely recognise the importance of the learning environment. It is, to my mind, absolutely crucial.

I've known Stuart pretty well for some years now and we get along. I'm even coming to terms, albeit very slowly, with the fact that he lives in Yorkshire! (Speaking as a good Lancastrian, I can forgive a man being born in Cumbria, as Stuart was, but to move across the Pennines...) When I was running the national academy back in the mid-2000s, he was managing the equivalent club academy at Leeds. Quite often, we would hold our academy days up north, and Leeds was the obvious place for a base, not least because it was a dual-code operation involving talented youngsters from both league and union. Regular readers will be aware of my interest in the 13-man game, so as far as I was concerned it was the perfect location.

Stuart struck me then as someone with clear ideas about approach and he showed this quality again, in a far more pressurised situation, during the Six Nations. He could, in his caretaker role, have concentrated purely and simply on addressing England's problems on the pitch – and there were a few of those, as we know. Instead, he went deeper. He made it his business to tackle the cultural issues that had developed within the squad, restore what he considered to be the right values, re-emphasise the pride involved in wearing the national jersey and reconnect the players with the wider rugby public. Big tasks, well performed.

Stuart does not need me to tell him that there is a long road ahead, and that the road starts in a difficult place: namely, in South Africa this coming June. I travelled there twice with England, in 2000 and again seven years later. On both occasions, I knew we would be tested technically, tactically, physically and mentally – perhaps in ways we were unlikely to be tested anywhere else. But while we undertook the 2007 trip without players from the three leading clubs in the country, the earlier tour had parallels with this summer's visit.

England travelled in strength then, just as they will in a couple of months' time, and they played five games, as they will in June. Looking back, the 2000 tour was one of the main foundations of the World Cup victory three years later, and if we can say the same after the next global tournament in 2015, we'll all be pretty happy. But by the same yardstick, we must be wary of judging this relatively young and inexperienced England side on immediate results against the Springboks. The South Africans may be in a rebuilding phase themselves, but they will still be extremely formidable. Teams far more advanced developmentally than England have lost there, and lost heavily.

However, I think Stuart has advantages that should count strongly in his favour over the coming months. To begin with, he has generally worked with his current players in representative environments rather than in the school-club arenas – something that should not be underestimated. When people are taken out of their familiar surroundings and exposed to equally talented players who have different views and do things in different ways, you learn a great deal about their ability to adapt.

Also, he has confidence – a confidence he shows signs of instilling into his team. England's early victories in the Six Nations, against Scotland and Italy, were not pretty: they were backs-to-the-wall affairs of the kind you'd generally expect from a more hardened, experienced side. To win at Murrayfield in the way they did with half a dozen new caps on the field said a good deal about Stuart's work behind the scenes. A lot is said these days about the degree of experience needed to prevail in the biggest matches but, to my mind, confidence is more important still.


Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
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

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine