On November 11 the surprise news that all England fans have been waiting for manifested itself. The imminent Lancastrian deposition after the World Cup finally became reality when Stuart Lancaster “stepped down” as England coach last week. In his press conference Lancaster said: “I ultimately accept and take responsibility for the team’s performance”. But was it Lancaster’s fault?
The only answer is yes. Under his tenure England became the first host nation to be knocked out at the pool stages of a World Cup. Furthermore, since his appointment in 2012 England have won only 28 out of 46 games, failed to win any Six Nations titles, won only three out of 15 southern hemisphere clashes and dropped three points in the international league tables. In other words, if there had been an annual performance review of Lancaster he would, by no means, have received an end of year bonus.
However, Lancaster faced more problems in the World Cup itself. The words ‘selection crisis’ and ‘young squad’ will forever be associated with Lancaster’s dismissal.
Lets start with the young squad issue. England’s 2015 team was full of inexperienced players, so inexperienced that they were actually the youngest team in the tournament. Age is somewhat irrelevant, but caps are not. England only had on average 25 caps per player compared to champions New Zealand who had on average 65. The lack of international experience in the squad saw too many conceded penalties and easy Welsh and Australian victories in the pool stages.
The second issue is selection. Who was left out of the team? Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley were nowhere to be seen in the line-up. Additionally, Lancaster stuck fervently to the RFU’s ‘no overseas players’ stance and discounted a previous European Player of the Year winner Steffon Armitage, the current one Nick Abendanon, as well as the outstanding Luther Burrell. Instead of handing out rosy red World Cup caps to seasoned pros, Lancaster decided to pick Sam Burgress, a player with years worth of Rugby League experience but only 10 months of Union experience. In hindsight all very wise decisions.
The reaction to Lancaster’s sacking by pundits and players has been positive. For instance, former international Andy Goode said, “it was obviously a failure and, as he said, it was his responsibility. It is probably the right one.”
Unsurprisingly, the RFU executive Ian Ritchie agreed Lancaster should step down from his role. This is the statement that has been reverberated around the country and from different rugby stratas. Lancaster needed to go; it was only a matter of time before the executioner came calling, because not even England’s saintly Sir Clive Woodward could survive the World Cup that Lancaster produced.
It might be considered the right decision, but who is going to steer England’s ship into silverware-laden ports? Will Greenwood said: “There are some great coaches in the world, who need to be looked at.” And being looked at they are. This includes the rugby maestro Michael Cheika, the Australian coach and man who led Leinster to two consecutive Heineken Cup trophies, while Japanese fortune reformer Eddie Jones is also in contention.
On 12 November a report emerged claiming that an unidentified member of the New Zealand coaching team was approached and flat out rejected the proposal of coaching England. Closer to home, Joe Schmidt was a suitor for the job but has already been reported to have turned down a £1 million offer. Wales Head coach Warren Gatland, is also in the running.
Lancaster’s deposition has landed England in a different crisis – a succession crisis.
If this was 1461 the York dynasty would emerge as the Lancastrian successors, but in modern day English rugby, only time will tell who will be appointed the task of making the English rose bloom once more.
Image courtesy of Photosport