David Flatman: Lancaster worked his way to the top, now leave him there
From the Front Row
Sunday 18 March 2012
The RFU must confirm Stuart Lancaster as England head coach. Yes, I know, I have played under him before but I am not going to get picked now, no matter what I say, so at least I can write what I want.
To say Lancaster stumbled into this caretaker role would be to undersell the work he put in as the coach of the A team (I still battle to say "Saxons") and as the RFU's Head of Elite Player Development. These are roles that, with just a handful of matches every year, could be loafed through with minimum maintenance and a few nice holidays, courtesy of the RFU gravy train.
But this was never his way. The thorough, considered, well-read manager of men we have seen of late has been years in the making. Like so many of us, he grafted in the hope that, one day, a break might come. It came, and that graft meant he was ready.
Yes, England lost to Wales at home, and this hurts. But, lest we forget, they were but a thumbnail away from drawing a game against one of the world's best teams, and this is some achievement for such an inexperienced group of blokes. Normally, I subscribe to the theorythat the result is all that matters, but for Lancaster and his men I find my beliefs bending.
That is why my mind was made up even before yesterday so the Ireland result is irrelevant. England are on a journey and I, for one, cannot take my eyes off it. Not since I was a schoolboy have I cheered so loudly for an England win as last Sunday as Alex Corbisiero and Co butchered the apparently indestructible French scrum. I left my chair and, believe me, that is saying something. Admittedly, when England won the World Cup in 2003 I was busy on club duty, so cheering was not an option.
Lancaster has instilled a visible team spirit and made England lovable again. This might sound a bit light and fluffy, but our rugby team should always be an object of pride.
It has taken this lot four games to get us cheering unreservedly for the rose once more.
This is partly down to some brilliant results, but also to do with the culture Lancaster demanded and the blokes he chose to bring it about. They seem humble, ready to buy into the team ethos set out on day one.
And buying in is not a bad idea. We have seen what happens to those who chose to overstep the mark. Lancaster's willingness to sacrifice one to educate a thousand reveals a steely conviction behind the smile.
So why would the RFU not pick him? Well, according to the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio, he does not possess sufficient "global experience".
Now, in rugby as in life, it pays to know one's place, and mine is a level or two below Dallaglio in our sport's pecking order. However, his reasoning is tosh. I understand it, I just do not agree with it.
You could probably count the coaches around the world with sufficient global experience on two hands.
The same names pop up every time a big job becomes available. And they are, no doubt, extremely good at what they do. But to only consider men from this very small group misses a trick. Remember Lancaster rejected the option of picking the same old names.
Had he played it safe, nobody would have batted an eyelidbecause, just like these big name coaches, his rejects are top of the range players with great global experience. But he did leave them out, partly because he knew that, come the next World Cup, English rugby would need a new breed to go into battle.
Nobody wants to pick an inexperienced player over an experienced one, but how will the younger man further himself and become experienced without getting picked? Every young player needs a break, someone to believe in him and take a gamble on him. Given time, this young man might become the next Nick Easter or Mike Tindall.
These are brave decisions, but somebody has to make them.
The bods at RFU Towers must surely be impressed by what Lancaster has built and achieved in such a short time. To discard him in favour of a bigger name would be to directly dismiss his philosophy of trusting the underdog to perform, to grow and to deliver English rugby a future, for he is every bit as new and untested as the likes of Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt.
But back them, trust them, reward and encourage them and, by 2015 they will be men. They will have global experience for what it is worth and, I tell you what, they will take some beating.
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