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.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks