Written by Rod Crowley: Whether he wants the job on a permanent time basis or not, Stuart Lancaster will be the first man to be seriously considered by the RFU as the successor to recently resigned Head Coach, Martin Johnson. The 42 year old has been given the job of caretaker Head Coach for the 2012 Six Nations tournament which, if successful, will at the very least put him on the shortlist for the job on a permanent basis.
Lancaster, who coached an England XV back in June in their victorious game against the Barbarians, has also been in charge for the last ten games of the Saxons, England’s second team, impressively winning nine of them as well as lifting the 2010 Churchill Cup. Prior to that he had been Head of Elite Player Development at the RFU appointed following a successful two year stint between 2006-08 as Director of Rugby at Leeds.
Specialising on offence, Lancaster will be taking charge of the backs as well as England’s overall strategy during the Six Nations. He will be assisted by Saracens first team coach, Andy Farrell and will leave the job of scrummage coach in the hands of Graham Rowntree, who is the only member of Johnson’s coaching team to remain in post.
Certainly there is plenty to be excited about with this new set up, particularly as Lancaster is a hugely respected figure within Rugby Union while Farrell is working wonders at Saracens currently and Rowntree came out of England’s disastrous World Cup campaign with a huge amount of credit.
England fans will obviously want to know at the earliest what players from Johnson’s World Cup squad will be included in Lancaster’s Six Nations plans but he is known to be very keen on backs such Ugo Monye, Shontayne Hape, Ben Foden and Chris Ashton, whilst in the forwards he will be keen to give prop Alex Corbisiero a chance and is said to be in favour of replacing Lewis Moody as both captain and open side flanker with Northampton’s outstanding Tom Wood.
Team discipline on and off the pitch will be huge issues for Lancaster, who is known for his fiery nature and his attention to detail. He is also a very good motivator who uses the well known ‘stick and carrot method to great effect. One to one meetings with all the players will become a feature of England training in which he leaves players under no doubt of the job that they have been selected to do. He is also a coach that likes nothing more than getting on the pitch to practice with the players and he is not frightened to mix it within reason.
His first match in charge will be the Calcutta Cup encounter with Scotland on February 4th, followed by a trip to Rome before taking on Wales at Twickenham. Their fourth game will come in Paris against Rugby World Cup runners up, France before playing the final game of the tournament against Ireland at Twickenham on, of all days, St Patrick’s Day, March 17th.
After making the World Cup Final, it is France who are the favourites in the six nations betting to win the tournament at odds of 2/1. Wales, who reached the semi finals are second favourites to win at 11/4 with England rated a 10/3 chance ahead of Ireland (13/2) and Scotland (25/1) and whilst they may have their work cut out to prove doubters wrong, the England players aren't a bad collective of players and if rejuvenated under the guidance of Lancaster, then a challenge Six Nations would not be a surprise.