James Lawton: Is Lancaster really too raw for the RFU after all this?
It's getting increasingly hard for England to look anywhere but to their caretaker coach
We keep being told Stuart Lancaster is too raw, too inexperienced to take the England he has picked up from – well, you might say the gutter – on to the big stage of World Cups and the potentially devouring challenges that beckon in the southern hemisphere.
However, if this is the eventual decision of the Rugby Football Union, whose last great misadventure was to place all its faith in the iconic playing reputation but zero coaching background of Martin Johnson, it had better hire an advocate of exceptional power and lucidity.
This will be necessary if they want to make the smallest inroads into a proposition that seemed pretty much unanswerable in the Stade de France last night.
It was that after being handed the ultimate hospital pass of regenerating the squad which left New Zealand a few months ago as the laughing stock of every serious corner of world rugby, the only smudge on his reputation is an extremely narrow defeat by a Welsh team which next weekend should announce themselves as one of the more impressive Grand Slam winners of recent years.
If Lancaster had merely given the new England a fresh set of values, an understanding of what is required if you want to call yourself a fully fledged professional, he would be due, if not the job wrapped up in gift paper, at least a huge vote of thanks and a position for life in the Twickenham technical staff that apparently never saw the disaster in New Zealand as even a smudge on the horizon.
But of course Lancaster has done far more than emerge as some textbook czar of discipline.
He has had the courage to invest his future reputation with a belief that in the biggest playing population in all of rugby England have young players who can indeed create new horizons, new belief.
That, surely, was the meaning of yesterday's victory over the team who, while the old England were slinking back home, came so close to winning their first World Cup against the force and obsessive ambition of the All Blacks.
France's new coach Philippe Saint-André may have made a mess of his team selection, may have failed again to produce the kind of rugby that might have been expected of a team of established success and such brilliant potential as the new try-scoring phenomenon Wesley Fofana, but that does nothing to cloud the fact that Lancaster's young lions again took a major step forward.
Perhaps there is a case for Twickenham to consider the experience and the coaching facility of men like Nick Mallett and former All Blacks back coordinator Wayne Smith. Maybe the work of Lancaster could be effectively augmented by men who have been around the international block a few more times.
However, it is extremely hard to believe that it should be at the expense of the impact of the quiet but formidably committed coach who yesterday could draw so much pride in his belief in such young contenders as the glacial Owen Farrell and the impressively controlled ex-tearaway Manu Tuilagi.
Lancaster came under trenchant attack for preferring Farrell to Toby Flood at No 10. His reaction was mild but he insisted that he had seen things in the youngster which made him believe that he was not a thought for the future but a biting asset of today. It means that however the job interviews go, however Twickenham sifts through its data, Lancaster can always draw the deepest professional satisfaction from the sight of Farrell scooping up a pass which opened the way to yesterday's win – and then of him stopping in its tracks the incomparable momentum of a man like Imanol Harinordoquy.
These were not the deeds of a promising tyro. They were the work of a player who had been in need only of a little backing, a little proper interpretation of the talent he had already displayed.
And if the French, almost by reflex action, made Harinordoquy the man of the match, Lancaster surely nursed his own selections with great pride.
Tom Croft had to be a prime contender with his game-breaking try, when he ran not only like a stag but one equipped with extremely fine antennae. It was the most dramatic point of a superb performance.
When Farrell was asked about the degree of his disappointment when he failed with one kick, which bounced off the French woodwork, he looked genuinely bewildered. Frankly, he couldn't remember. No doubt he had already moved on.
Where he seemed most grounded, though, was in defining the strengths of the new England, the ones imposed by Lancaster when not too many beyond the shadows of Twickenham knew his name.
"We have good values about us," said Farrell. They do indeed – and Twickenham has a duty not to forget who it was who put them there.
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