With so much news of late regarding the refreshing changes that the new England coach, Eddie Jones has adopted, it seems that the reign of Stuart Lancaster is being tarnished further and further.
Man of the Match against Scotland, Billy Vunipola has pointed towards the positive encouragement that he’s receiving and thriving on as a result of Jones and his team, inferring that it was more ‘stick’ and less of the ‘carrot’ in the case of Lancaster’s regime.
Jones has also trusted the team to go out for ‘a few beers’ and encouraged them to have some downtime to get to know one another, something that was reportedly off the cards when Lancaster was in charge. Particularly during preparation for the World Cup.
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But is this apparent tarnishing of Lancaster’s period in charge somewhat unfair?
When we recall that when Lancaster took over, even on an interim basis, England were apparently rudderless – guided by a recent former player, the undoubtedly great captain Martin Johnson, at a World Cup where they made the headlines for all the wrong reasons – drunken antics, arrogant behaviour to the media and on the field, the charge that they were becoming like footballers (heavens forbid!) in their attitude.
Lancaster sought to do away with this superstar treatment and bring the players down to earth with enough of a bump to dent their supposedly overinflated egos. His first Six Nations training camp
was brought to north Leeds using admittedly high standard but still grass-roots facilities such as West Park Leeds RUFC.
His attitude seemed to be: you are rugby players, let’s remind you where you come from and get a little humility back in the hearts of the team.
Lancaster himself would never lose this sense of approachability and identity – he would not indulge in mind-games between opposition coaches, would always provide reasoned arguments behind his decisions, based on the wealth of data he had from his team of analysts.
There were always accusations behind the scenes of his schoolmasterly approach, but again, this was in his character, he never pretended to be anything he was not. His apparent dogged decision-making during matches regarding substitutions, almost always bang on the 60-minute mark, led critics to say he was unimaginative and did not provide players with the tools to find a Plan B should the initial game-plan not work.
The shift in attitude is evident by the captains chosen by the respective coaches – for Lancaster, it was the dependable, if perhaps less than world-class Chris Robshaw (at least at his position then of 7). He would rarely win you a match but would tackle his heart out and never let you down through a lack of trying.
Eddie Jones has meanwhile a more jocular approach to the team – engaging the media with good-humoured spikiness, challenging the players to show him their best.
He has plumped for Dylan Hartley at skipper – something of a polarising choice with critics claiming he’s a loose cannon, whilst supporters praising his hard edge and confrontational style (though few will argue his inclination to get himself suspended whilst out of England colours as being a merit to his game).
Jones’ trust in Hartley invokes the idea that the new coach will have the courage of his convictions and look to gain a competitive advantage, no matter what the critics may say.
There’s a balance to be found in man-management, but if reports are to be believed, it appears that the pendulum is back more towards the centre than the laissez-faire approach of Johnson and the strict, rigid demands of the Lancaster era. Should he keep winning, then he will be given every indulgence. If and when he’s on the end of a loss, the knives will be sharpened very shortly after.