Stuart Lancaster was the sensible choice for the England job
The RFU have made the right choice in naming Stuart Lancaster as permanent England head coach, writes Oliver Porritt
Stuart Lancaster’s appointment as England’s permanent head coach is a victory for common sense and shows the Rugby Football Union do know the right man when they see him.
In choosing Lancaster to continue in the role he held on an interim basis for the 2012 Six Nations, the RFU has demonstrated a pragmatism which in recent years has been lacking from its upper echelons.
Much of this is thanks to chief executive Ian Ritchie, who was appointed in December 2011 after being poached from All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, where he had enjoyed a hugely successful six-year tenure which included the introduction of Hawk-Eye technology and the Centre Court roof.
Ritchie also served as the independent non-executive director of the Football League for seven years.
When the Football League created this role it sought to add some outside perspective to the decision-making process and it is this ability to look at the bigger picture which makes Ritchie such an asset to English rugby.
It would have been easy to please the RFU hierarchy with a big name like former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallet, but Ritchie saw beyond Lancaster’s relative inexperience and recognised all the attributes he deemed necessary to lead England to the target of a home World Cup in 2015.
“Stuart has shown throughout the Six Nations and subsequently in both interview and other conversations I, as chairman of the advisory panel, have had with him that he has the skills and vision needed in the England head coach,” said Ritchie said.
“I am sure everyone in England will join me in congratulating Stuart on his appointment.”
It is the final sentence which is the most telling as it acknowledges the importance of having the support of your fans.
Since the highs of the 2003 World Cup, the Twickenham faithful have seen their fortress become a happy hunting ground for many of its visitors and, while they had continued to pay for increasingly expensive tickets, a vocal minority had begun to show their displeasure when things were not going to plan.
But with Lancaster at the helm it is hard to imagine those scenes being repeated – win or lose this is a side full of players that understand the value of the shirt on their back.
The wins against Scotland and Italy were far from pretty but they were both underpinned by a doggedness, as well as a coolness under pressure, that was completely absent from last year’s World Cup.
Lancaster has given his players a renewed belief in themselves, which may be partly explained by simply selecting those in form.
He has also shown that reputations count for nothing with the unceremonious dropping of Ben Youngs.
The players have to work on the basis they will only play for England if they are the best in their position.
It is this level of competition that blows away complacency and inspired Youngs to return a different player in the Ireland clash, where he came on and was instrumental in killing the game off.
Lancaster has blooded a new generation of players and still managed to take second place in his first Six Nations.
He has been vindicated in every bold decision he has taken, from picking Chris Robshaw as captain, to giving 20-year-old Owen Farrell the fly-half jersey against Wales in only his third international.
The players clearly endorse Lancaster’s vision, and while there are many obstacles ahead, starting with three tests in South Africa this June, England and the RFU are now on the right course.
Some have labelled Ritchie’s decision a leap of faith and question whether Lancaster will cope when the going gets tough.
But few challenges will exceed getting the players and fans believing again so soon after the disastrous World Cup.
In the hands of Ritchie and Lancaster, English rugby has much to look forward to over the next few years.