Stuart Lancaster – the case for and against

Theblitzdefence likes Stuart Lancaster. He is a good coach who seems to act with decency and integrity while showing respect for his players and the opposition. In the cold light of day after England’s Rugby World Cup exit being liked by theblitzdefence is probably not going to help him. The knives are being sharpened.

The RFU’s lexicon is littered with management consultancy speak; they talk about objectives, high performance, strategic plans, inter-connection with the public and advisory panels. This hard nosed approach is echoed by the RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie who deemed England’s second place in this year’s 6 Nations as “unacceptable”.

Lancaster’s future will probably be decided at the end of this World Cup, no doubt through the formation of a strategic working group to review the team’s and Lancaster’s performance. In the mean time here are the cases for and against Lancaster.

The case for Lancaster

Media expectations and hype 

The English media love to build up teams and knock them down and we have seen this in full technicolour over the past few months. England have not won a 6 Nations title for a few years now so why they were being hyped as potential winners of the RWC is anyone’s guess.

Yes, they were playing at home where they have a decent record but history tells us that Northern Hemisphere teams struggle to win this tournament. The only time they have won it was with a team that was head and shoulders above their Northern Hemisphere peers and was capable of winning in places like New Zealand. This England team is nothing like that good.

Even in the days leading up to the crunch game against Australia the Daily Telegraph’s ‘experts’ were all predicting an England win. Don’t any of them have a Sky subscription? Did they not see the huge leap forward Australia have taken over the last 9 months? Obviously not.

England’s head coach is always going to struggle with the weight of expectation, regardless of the players he has at his disposal.

The quality of players available to him

England have a lot of good players; what they don’t have are too many great players, the sort of players who would be looking to be the best in their positions in the world. Who would fall in to this category? Brown probably and a few maybes – Ben Youngs, Wood, Lawes…any others?

Lancaster’s England, in our view, is greater than the sum of the parts. His England team performs at a higher level than the players he can call on.

This was a tough pool

The vagaries of the World Rugby ranking system allied with the odd decision to base the Rugby World Cup pool draw about 3 years’ out from the event itself resulted in 3 top teams being in one group. A strong team with a top coach was always going to be kicked out of the tournament.

If Wales or Australia had gone out would their respective coaches have been under pressure for their jobs, or would their Unions have recognised they have a good coach regardless of the RWC outcome. Basing performance on the outcome of 2 critical World Cup games is perhaps not the route to long term success?

The case against Lancaster

Selection quandaries

Way back at the start of the year theblitzdefence highlighted the dilemma facing Lancaster. Having lots of players of the same standard but not real standout players meant that he was constantly rotating players and not building towards a settled match day squad.

The biggest challenge at international level is bring the players together as quickly as possible given the short period they have together. Not having a clear vision of his first choice team as we headed towards the RWC was a mistake which was accentuated in the World Cup itself as Lancaster chopped and changed his midfield with seemingly no overall idea of who his best players were.

What’s the strategy?

Lancaster seemed to be developing a template of attacking, positive rugby, played at pace with fast, elusive backs able to work the space once the English forward ball carriers had made their inroads.

This blueprint worked pretty well over the last 2 years and brought England some notable victories but on the eve of the Wales game that blueprint was ripped up and thrown out of the window. Lancaster reverted to a conservative selection of Farrell, Burgess and Barritt – hardly a midfield to strike fear in to defences.

In that game England dominated possession but couldn’t find the key to unlock the Welsh door. A more creative backline would arguably have had more success and a single extra try in the period before half time would probably have brought England home with a win.

This is perhaps a simplistic approach to England – Wales game but the inability to turn possession and territory in to points when they were dominant cost England the game and probably Lancaster his job.

He hasn’t won anything

Ultimately this may be the deciding factor for the RFU. Lancaster’s teams may have missed the odd 6 Nations championship victory by a few points here and there but that may not be enough for the RFU big wigs.

Add 6 Nations failure to Rugby World Cup failure and we don’t see a particularly rosy picture of England’s success under Lancaster’s tenure. In the RFU world of targets and strategic objectives this stark failure may be the only criteria used to judge Lancaster, in which case England will be looking for a new coach in the coming weeks.

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