Defeat of All Blacks has raised the bar for Lancaster

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Year two of the Stuart Lancaster blueprint for success is under way.

When he succeeded Martin Johnson in December, 2011, Lancaster began to put in place a strategy that would see England win the World Cup on home soil in 2015, regardless of the fact that his tenure was initially just for the five games of last year’s Six Nations Championship.

That he was so successful in implementing the first stage of that plan in such a short space of time led the Rugby Football Union to conclude that he had earned the right to see out his vision.

Phase one was to rebuild the culture of the England rugby team and reconnect them to the public they had become so ostracised from.

That off-field revolution was to go hand-in-hand with results, something Lancaster achieved by guiding them to within a try of the grand slam.

Progress through the summer may have been a little rocky, but the manner of the victory over world champions New Zealand on December 1 accelerated the procedure.

And so we arrive at year two, and the need for the progression to continue by the establishing of a certain playing style.

England have shown pockets of brilliance, be it their defensive resoluteness in Paris last March, or their offensive destruction of the All Blacks.

But in a calendar year when they face a Six Nations with three home games, a summer tour to Argentina and the return of the southern hemisphere heavyweights in November, 2013 is a good time to start imposing a style.

That style for Lancaster is one that keeps opposition defences thinking with intelligent running from deep, and constant and swift re-alignment behind the ball carrier. Depth of movement is key if England are to punch through opposition ramparts as frequently as New Zealand and Australia do.

Lancaster also wants to establish a reliable kicking game to pin opponents back.

It is a style that is by no means radical, but one he has been trying to impart since he first took office and not just in his first-choice 32 – but down into the Saxons as well. By implementing sweeping changes he ensures that players promoted from the second squad into the first are well-versed in the art.

Tinkering with that style and finalising it are for years three and four in the World Cup cycle, when Lancaster hopes to affect his squad with as little change as possible, both in terms of personnel and technique

Lancaster is wise enough to appreciate that England’s historical strength lay in their mauling, something he does not want to leave behind.

But in what could be a crucial year, the development of his game plan will be a key yardstick on which to judge him.

Results, though, remain the defining barometer, and no matter how cohesive England look going forward, if they lose games regularly and fail to progress then the knives that were starting to be sharpened after two defeats in November will be readied again.

That triumph over New Zealand, as timely and historic as it was, has also raised the bar for Lancaster’s England.

Performances of such vim and vigour will now be expected, and the former Leeds player and coach has to handle those expectations, particularly over the coming weeks against teams who will raise their game to face their enemy, where perhaps the All Blacks were not as determined.

Encouragingly, Lancaster and his staff and players are aware of the external pressure that is building around them.

If anything, they are embracing that expectation.

It may yet get the best out of them. Owen Farrell for one, has already shown he can handle it by improving his standard since being shortlisted for the IRB player of the year award.

People are talking about England in a positive way again, where 12 months ago they remained an unknown quantity at best, following the shambolic nature of their World Cup campaign.

For that, Lancaster deserves enormous credit.

Whether he retains that 12 months from now, with England’s star remaining on an upward trajectory, will be fascinating to discover.