Lewis Moody: It is now down to the team to keep Lancaster at the top
Moody Views: To go to a World Cup without an English management team would be a travesty
Thursday 08 March 2012
So Stuart Lancaster needs a win in the next two games to boost his chances of landing the England job on a permanent basis. It shouldn't be like this, but unfortunately it is. And the players will sense the urgency and know what is required.
Indeed, they will feel the necessity more than anyone to beat either France in Paris on Sunday or Ireland at Twickenham a week later – or, in the dream scenario, both. They will read about and hear the clamour to bring in a big foreign name at the top and they will know what this would mean.
A new coach would bring a new philosophy and a new style and they would be back to square one in the rebuilding process. The new man would inevitably have his favourites, so in this sense the players are not only playing for the coach and the current set-up but also for their own futures. Motivation doesn't get much bigger that that.
I have already stated my belief that it would verge on crazy to look anywhere else than Stuart after the strides that – with Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree – he has made this season. The guys' desire to play for each other is stronger than I've seen in a while and there is real endeavour in the way they are trying to play.
With the overhaul of the squad, it has been a sink or swim mentality and the guys have been swimming. Bar that one error at the end of the Welsh game these could have been very different circumstances. Stuart would be in the box seat – where he should be anyway.
For me, to bring in someone else would be change for change's sake. I know that the Rugby Football Union has been in disarray recently and that the new chief executive, Ian Ritchie, wants to get this decision right. But there is absolutely no need to make a headline-grabbing appointment.
I hope Ian looks behind the scenes and sees that it's about Stuart and his staff creating something for 2015. There's no quick fix. It's a process and, to my mind, Stuart has introduced a process with genuine potential.
Granted, there are some fantastic foreign coaches out there. But to head into a World Cup in England without an English management team would, to my mind, be a travesty. Having an Englishman in charge is a very powerful statement, a cultural statement.
Stuart knows what English rugby is about, what Twickers is about, he knows the nature of the players and the nature of the fans, the media and everything that goes with it. None of that should be underestimated and, even though Ian comes from a different sporting background at Wimbledon, I pray he is analysing long and hard what England have at the minute.
Certainly, he should pay little heed to some of the ridiculous comments emerging. I can understand that Matt O'Connor, the skills coach at my old club, Leicester, feels frustrated for Toby Flood, who has been dropped, and Ben Youngs, who will probably start on the bench in Paris. I feel for Floody, we have all been through this, but I have no doubt he will be better for it.
But I can't agree with O'Connor if he really believes this England team take the field simply "trying not to lose". I can tell you that if this coaching team were afraid of losing, they wouldn't have packed the squad with debutants. They have taken a risk and given these guys the opportunity. And those guys have done themselves proud so far.
No doubt Toby is a creative player who I always enjoyed playing with – but so too are Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson. They have both performed with distinction. England showed their attacking intent against Wales and they will only get better in this regard. When you put a new group of players together it does take time for them to find their feet, particularly in attack. England are continuing to gel but they probably won't be where Stuart wants them as an attacking force for six months. He should be given the time to carry on the development.
England are creating their own identity. That is what means so much to me. At the moment, I can see a team who have bought into the set-up and have the desire to be there to the very end and fight tooth and nail for the win. At some point down the line, they will find their identity. Right now they just have to play, learn from each other and understand each other. The performances will improve as they go along.
As it is, Stuart's team have two weekends to save his job. Next week must represent their best chance of that all-important win. Ireland are ageing and will arrive at HQ on the back of games on three consecutive weekends. That may prove crucial against a young England desperate for the win and to put their mark on Twickenham. I am very optimistic about that encounter.
Paris, however, will be a mighty ask. It could go disastrously wrong. But I don't think this England team will allow that to happen. They have enough confidence in their ability to do a job, but whether that job is good enough to win is another matter.
Everything will have to go right. They will have to ensure their defence is as sharp as it was for most of the Welsh game, they must cut out the errors, retain the ball and limit France's incursions into the 22. Most importantly, they have to remain alert and not drop their guard for a second. Sounds simple, doesn't it?
The truth is France are a broken-game team, they are masters of capitalising on turnovers, on exploiting the chaos in open play. But they showed against Ireland that maybe they aren't as good as we all thought they were. England have to copy the Irish and go at them straight from the off.
My head says that the task will be slightly beyond England at this stage but, blessedly, rugby remains a game which as much of the heart as the mind. I think they can sneak it and if they do I'll be bouncing up and down. As much because of what it would mean for Stuart and the likelihood that he will allowed to continue with his rebuild.
Reaction to my retirement has left me truly humbled
My mobile decided to retire yesterday, 24 hours after I had announced my decision to quit playing for good. I'm not surprised. I received so many messages, on voicemail, email, text and Twitter that the poor phone was overloaded.
I felt truly humble at the reaction to my news that my shoulder injury has forced me to give up the profession I loved. It's funny, but I was nervous. Would anybody notice?
Hearing characters I have always respected, such as Martin Johnson and Andy Farrell, giving comments about me meant so much. But then, so did each and every message. I wish I could reply to them all and will try to, but there are so many that I apologise here. Believe me, they were all much appreciated. Even the ones which called me "mad"!
It hasn't begun to sunk in. I find myself going around the house thinking, "I have training tomorrow". At least I will be going to Bath regularly as I try to get my shoulder in the best shape possible for surgery. I will be a part of the squad until the summer and will help out in whichever way I can.
I suppose when the close season comes around it will hit me. I'm no longer a rugby player. But I'll always be a rugby man. It's a sport which has given me so much and I will endeavour to give plenty back.
My weekend picks
France 14 England 15
Wales 30 Italy 5
Ireland 20 Scotland 10
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