The delapidated performances in the world cup created an attitude that can only be associated with the dire position of Portsmouth football club; fans were ready to accept the fate of English rugby. Many fans, coaches and directors adopted this pessimistic acceptance of England’s role in world rugby. This continued following the appointment of Stuart Lancaster despite positive results in this year’s Six Nations. The disbelief and negative outlook had English Rugby mired by discontent and doubt, a recipe that was not going to go well.
However, against the criticism of the media, individuals in the RFU and ex-players, Lancaster gradually won the support of the fans but more significantly, raised the profile of the game simultaneously at the grass roots level and professional level. Lancaster, in the build-up to the 2012 Six Nations, revolutionised the ageing core of England players; the international careers for fundamental players like Shaw, Easter, Stevens, Lewsey, Flutey and Cueto were replaced with the influx of inexperienced, enthusiastic and driven players of Robshaw, Farrell, Tuilagi and Lawes. This new core has undeniable talent, but unlike their elder counterparts, you could possibly say predecessors, they don’t have the fear and experience of failure.
For these players the opportunity to represent England wasn’t a chore, a platform to choke in front of thousands but a dream: people could criticise them, undermine their performances, comment on their nativity but they didn’t care and in the lead up to the autumn internationals, they still don’t care. This is all Lancaster’s work. Instead of focussing on the ageing squad, he’s gone all out and changed the face of international team. Yes it was a risk, but as they say, high risk, high reward.
He is very much training the next generation while continuing his development work at the grass roots level. Again I raise similarities to football, much to the sigh of rugby fans, but Lancaster has created an aura and structure similar to the German national football team where the same philosophy and training techniques are mirrored across all age levels of the national and regional set up. The U17s are playing the same style as the international team; they are facing the same rigorous defensive training and emphasis on discipline. They are in turn experiencing the positive results of the first team. This obviously bodes well for the fate of English rugby yet it will take time and of course requires the stability the RFU has yet to show; consistency and stability are vital for success.
Don’t mistake me, the England team this month will not beat the southern hemisphere powerhouses of Australia, New Zealand or South Africa but I am more than confident in Lancaster’s leadership and decision making for the 2013 Six Nations and more importantly the state of English rugby for the next world cup, England 2015. It’s a slow process, but one definitely worth taking and one I look forward to.
Author: Joshua Jalal