In the wake of its greatest failure, England Rugby is in a state of flux. Many highly regarded members of the rugby community have spoken out against the continued tenure of Stuart Lancaster and RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie.
One year ago Lancaster was rewarded a contract extension through to 2020. While this raised eyebrows due to it being before the World Cup, most were in favour of the decision. It showed confidence in a coach that had brought a lot of positives to English rugby. This was only one year ago. Should a loss to two of the best teams on the planet be enough to rescind all this positivity?
Admittedly, leading your nation to its worst ever World Cup finish in its home tournament is the sort of blunder that would usually see you walking. Hindsight will see many people point the finger, maybe rightly so, but in the interest of an objective argument, I am going to list the good things that Stuart Lancaster has achieved during his stint as Head Coach.
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Young Talent Development
Selection has been an issue recently, but when you look at the cumulative talent that Lancaster has brought through, it is clear that he has always been invested in developing the future of English talent.
When he took the reins, Robshaw had only one cap before he was appointed captain. It was known from the get-go that Lancaster was here to elicit change in a rudderless England, and youth was the way to go.
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Since then he has developed players like the Vunipola brothers, Joe Launchbury, George Ford, and Jonathan Joseph. Young as they are, England have been largely dependent on them, and in four years time they will still be around. That is a huge positive for English rugby that wasn't the case when Lancaster took over.
In the World Cup, there may have been an outcry for Henry Slade's inclusion. It may be too little, too late, but another cap against Uruguay shows that Stuart is not afraid to pull the trigger on new combinations and bring talent to the fore. This hasn't always been the case for England's Head Coaches.
The most marked difference between this and other failed World Cup campaigns has been the clear trust throughout the camp. Since crashing out, aspersions have been cast about Andy Farrell and Billy Vunipola sounding off about squad members, but their reliability is in question. It seems more likely that reporters are simply keen to apportion blame.
Generally the signs from within the camp on and off the field have suggested a collective mindset and an openness about the situation. Lancaster has nurtured this through a history of rewarding players who have, in his eyes, earned his loyalty. Dips in form have not led to players being cast aside; which takes away pressure and allows them all to focus on performance in isolation. It is often said that form is temporary, class is permanent; and this understanding has prevented knee-jerk, media-driven selection.
Plenty of coaches might have crumbled to pressure, and picked someone like Steffon Armitage despite their established principles. Some may argue the fact that England might have escaped the group with his impact, but from the players' point of view, it wouldn't have done the long term campaign any favours.
Hindsight may reveal his fallacy, but Lancaster picked his horse and stuck to it. Right or wrong, it was admirable, and is bound to have gained the respect from the squad itself, and made them all feel secure.
Another intra-player attribute that Lancaster has focussed on, arguably more than any other, has been the general culture under his leadership. Discipline and work ethic has clearly improved for those who remain in the squad. He has taken no prisoners in punishing players who have let themselves down and has not played favourites.
Danny Care, Dylan Hartley, and Manu Tuilagi are all examples of Lancaster setting values and expectations for the squad as professionals and role models, and sticking to those. There is no ambiguity and there never has been.
The presence of honesty and communication is invaluable when preparing for tournaments and when you look at players' interviews there is a sense that they appreciate it, and it has improved them as people. They are encouraged to front up, and tackle the problem ahead. They are therefore always working forwards, not dwelling on past failures, or resting on their laurels.
The transformation of Danny Cipriani has been nurtured by directive from England management; allowing him back into the system and being rewarded with maturity. Despite missing out on selection, the maverick Fly Half was unequivocal in vouching for his team mates. That certainly wasn't always the case.
It is not all that long ago where England had no definitive style. There seemed to be no game plan, no direction. There was a lot of aimless kicking from the Half Backs, and a morbid lack of creativity in the midfield. There was no dynamism in the pack and when they couldn't arm wrestle a side, they were exposed by the handling and skill set of superior teams.
One thing that cannot be said of England under Lancaster is that the journey has been boring. They are encouraged to play heads-up rugby, playing flatter than ever before, and scoring more tries than the English public has seen for a decade.
They might not have put it all together but the excitement of the pack's offloading game, George Ford's gain line threat, and the lethal running of the outside backs has changed the perception of English rugby for the better.
While Stuart may become more famous for the big losses, we mustn't forget, England have seen some remarkable wins under his direction also. Not many England sides can say they have beaten the All Blacks. Not many sides in history can say they beat them well.
Australia had become a fixture in which we expected victory (until recently), which hasn't always been the case, and while the Six Nations may be viewed as our nearly tournament in recent years, we have beaten the eventual winner more than once and let us not forget the astonishing trouncing of the French at Twickenham in one of the greatest matches ever played.
It put us on the very brink of winning the championship overall, but for a referee's interpretation, Ireland could have been the nearly men, and England World Cup favourites.
But hey, at the end of the day, that's' sport. It's a results driven business and the question is always: "what have you done for me lately?"
Some of these characteristics have been absent at the worst possible time, but sometimes in an objective assessment of failure, you need to look at the bigger picture.
There will be no rush to decide whether Lancaster can recover from this disaster and continue to do his job well; but in deciding, these are some factors that should not be forgotten.
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