With the opening of the eighth Rugby World Cup just a day away, Kiwi lock Ali Williams has launched an inaccurate and dated criticism of the hosts that ignores coach Stuart Lancaster’s extensive, and potentially excessive, efforts to alter public perception.
By stating in his interview with L'Equipe, according to the Daily Mail, that “it would be a dark day” if England were to win their own World Cup on October 31, Williams has merely highlighted the size of task faced by Stuart Lancaster during his tenure.
Following the shameful manner of England’s quarter-final exit in New Zealand four years ago, for which the players escaped the majority of blame amidst Martin Johnson’s departure, Lancaster has worked tirelessly to improve his squad as both players and people.
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Against a reckless campaign nicknamed ‘Mike Tindall’s Stag’ by the New Zealand press, Williams’s comments earlier this week that: “they (England) create a consensus against them” and “lack nobility in their victories” would have had merit. Under Johnson and captain Lewis Moody, England became an arrogant side, detached from widespread support and any sense of likeability.
Regardless of Williams’ infamously provocative performances during the customary haka, which hardly portray him as a humble individual, his comments are no longer relevant.
From banning Danny Care for drink driving, to omitting Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilangi from his World Cup squad, the former for the latest in a remarkably long line of offences and the latter for an alleged assault on two police officers, Lancaster has created an environment which prioritises discipline above all else.
The omission of Toulon flanker Steffon Armitage, despite his outstanding club form for the past three seasons further highlighted Lancaster’s views on the importance of team culture in producing a winning environment.
Having won the last of his 77 caps in 2012, Williams has become oblivious to the fact that if anything Lancaster has taken this ethos too far. Against the most difficult pool in World Cup history England will aim to beat Fiji, Wales and Australia without three potentially crucial players. Tuilangi and Armitage are both game-changers while Hartley’s reliability at the set-piece may be sorely missed considering Tom Youngs’ inconsistency.
The selection has been made, and England have a very real chance of making the final in six weeks time. However, in the eventuality that they become the first host to fail to proceed from their group, England may then reflect on an excessive impetus of culture over quality.
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