After England’s memorable victory over France in Paris, Rugby Rugby’s Howard Johnson believes Stuart Lancaster would make a great permanent Head Coach. And not least because he’s a lucky bugger!
So there’s only one question worth the asking after England’s heart-thumping Six Nations victory on the foreign field of the Stade de France at the weekend. Would it now be both bloody-minded and bloody stupid of the RFU not to hand the full time Head Coach’s job to Stuart Lancaster, the unassuming and highly personable interim boss who’s masterminded three away wins – the first time an England side has achieved such a feat since the Six Nations tournament began – and an oh-so-narrow home defeat to the tournament’s likely victors Wales?
Lancaster’s impressive competition record so far has been built on the back of a set of principles that has primarily bestowed enormous trust in a young and inexperienced group of players, players who have almost to a man proved they have the necessary X-factor to enjoy long and, dare we say, distinguished careers in international rugby. There’s been a bravery in Lancaster’s selections that has appealed to the romantic in all of us. Which doesn’t negate the fact that many of us same folk who are now hailing his innovative choices would have been questioning his sanity had England been on the wrong side of the score in the three games – against Scotland, Italy and France – that have yielded such memorable wins.
Top level sport swings on the tiniest of margins and nowhere is that more clear than in England’s 2012 Six Nations journey. Far be it from me to be a killjoy. There’s no-one more pleased than I am about the unfolding of England’s fairytale. But let’s be honest, had Scotland been able to make the simplest of passes with the posts at their absolute mercy; had Italy had a substitute goal kicker worthy of the name; and had France not swapped Lionel Beauxis for François Trinh-Duc for the final minutes of the game, then it’s entirely possible that England could have been looking at four out of four in the ‘Games Lost’ column. That wouldn’t have changed the essential shape of England’s matches. They would have still performed with guts, drive, desire, passion, skill, inventiveness and ability. But under those circumstances it would have been absolutely impossible to imagine the Union giving Lancaster the post on a full-time basis. What can we conclude from this? Well above all, that Stuart Lancaster isn’t just a good coach. He’s also a lucky coach. And if you had to make your choices between the two you’d go for lucky every time, wouldn’t you?
I don’t buy the apocalyptic vision that plenty of journalists are trying to peddle right now. That the England camp was a miserable place pre-Lancaster, full of money-grabbing cynics and misbehaving miscreants, led by a coaching team that knew little, but scowled lots. That’s bullshit. I was there and it wasn’t like that at all. That it was time to make changes at the end of 2011 is abundantly clear. But where’s the surprise in that? There isn’t a team in international rugby that doesn’t get the brush out for a good sweep after a World Cup competition. It’s a natural break point, a time to shepherd out the old guard and usher in the new young bucks. So Lancaster has brought his own style, his own vision and his own players and he’s been absolutely right to do so. In doing so he’s shown that he has the temperament required of big-time rugby coaches. And like I said, he’s shown he’s got luck on his side. For now. Personally I’d love to see him get the job. First, because he’s proved he deserves a shot. Second, because he’s English, and I think we’ve seen in English football that you need a more-than-exceptional foreign coach if xenophobia isn’t going to creep into proceedings at some point. And thirdly because, as I said, he’s lucky.
Luck, of course, has a nasty habit of running out on you. And should Lancaster be awarded the post full time he’ll no doubt find that out for himself. But he certainly seems like the kind of guy who’s capable of dealing with adversity with a sure-footed calm that is both becoming of the man and hugely admirable. Lancaster doesn’t look like a chap who cheats himself or others. In a world of professional sport – yes, even rugby – where the pressures to be devious and Machiavellian in the pursuit of those all-important results are often unbearable – Lancaster seems to be an impervious island of calm and (hope I’m not proved wrong here) integrity. And whatever you might say about luck, he’s also a man who’s managed to mastermind three lovely-jubbly English tries in the Stade de France. For an Englishman living in France that’s pure gold. And for that reason alone I’d love to see Stuart Lancaster leading England ongoing with that same adorable mix of pride, belief and humility that we’ve seen every step of the way so far.
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