England must target immediate success, says experienced Easter

Stuart Lancaster says he would find it difficult to walk away from his role as England's head coach (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire).
Stuart Lancaster says he would find it difficult to walk away from his role as England's head coach (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire).
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Eight years ago, Nick Easter finished his first year in an England shirt on the losing side in a World Cup final.

Some 40 caps and a few grey hairs later, the 37-year-old No 8 was finishing what he described as his “worst week in rugby” with a hat-trick of tries.

Easter is that rarest of breeds in the Stuart Lancaster era; a remnant from England’s good old days.

Lancaster cleaned house when he took charge in December 2011, largely for the good of English rugby, but sometimes there is no substitute for experience.

And it is the severe lessons learned over the past few weeks that Easter believes will strengthen England going forward, a future that the veteran concedes may still involve him, if perhaps not Lancaster.

For whoever takes up the baton from the wreckage of what has been a desperately disappointing tournament – no matter the 10-try romp in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Manchester – they should heed the advice of the tireless forward.

Because for Easter the route to rehabilitation is simple: concentrate on the next objective and nothing more.

“What’s important is we don’t look just at Japan 2019,” said Easter, in relation to the definitive yardsticks that World Cups have become.

“You’ve got to set more immediate goals like becoming the best team in the northern hemisphere. That’s first. Start winning the Six Nations and winning grand slams, then get on these tours to the southern hemisphere and win those games and remember those situations so when a World Cup comes along, you’ve been in those situations before and you know what to do.

“Let’s look at immediate success and these guys are hungry for it. There’ll be no waiting around for them after what’s just happened. They’ll want to put it right straight away.”

The greenshoots of recovery were evident at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Henry Slade at outside centre scored a fine solo try. Jack Nowell on the wing raced over for a clinical hat-trick. Anthony Watson added another score to his consolation against Australia.

“The pool of talent is there, the potential for world-class players is there, we were just beaten by two very good teams,” reflected Easter on the defeats to Wales and the Wallabies that cut short the hosts’ World Cup involvement before this duty-fulfilling appointment in the north. “You just have to put your hands up, our best wasn’t good enough.

“There’s enough guys now with enough experience and they will be a lot more resilient for what they have just been through. They have had a tough education in the harshest of environments and they’ve got to remember it now.”

With the two decisive pool games taking place elsewhere on Saturday – Australia emerging unscathed from the ‘pool of death’ at Twickenham and Scotland withstanding a Samoan flurry at St James’s Park – it was hard not to expect a funereal, rather than ferocious, atmosphere in Manchester.

But while the intensity may have been lacking, the support the hosts received could not be questioned.

“The crowd were absolutely magnificent and more games should be played up here if that’s the reaction,” said Easter, whose first two tries came before the interval as England initially struggled for fluidity against the enthusiastic Uruguayan part-timers. “On the coach an hour and a half beforehand they were cheering as if we’d won the thing, they were fantastic.”

That unconditional support deserved better than a knockout stage without the hosts.

That Wales, Scotland and Ireland continue the fight for the British Isles into next weekend and beyond when England’s players will be back at their clubs, will be chastening. To a man, those with the Red Rose on their chest and Lancaster himself spoke of the hurt that will never go away.

“It will be eternal for us. We will always carry that disappointment,” said Tom Wood, a potential captain for a new era that begins in earnest. “It will weigh heavy on our minds because it was such a great opportunity. It was a chance to lift the nation and raise the profile of the sport.”

With that once-in-a-lifetime chance spurned, the next few days, weeks and months will be crucial in the rebuilding process.

Lancaster either has to be backed or sacked, because judging from his demeanour on Saturday night, he sees the job now as unfinished business.

He has the support of the players at least – “We want Stuart and the coaches to come out fighting,” said Wood – so it now rests with his conscience and the RFU’s decision-makers.

England: Goode, Watson (Brown 66), Slade, Farrell (Joseph 59), Nowell, Ford, Care (Wigglesworth 72); Vunipola (Marler 73), Youngs (George 40), Cole (Wilson 43), Launchbury, Parling (Kruis 56), Haskell (Wood 62), Robshaw, Easter.

Uruguay: Mieres, Gibernau, Prada, Vilaseca, Silva, Berchesi, Ormaechea; Sanguinetti, Arboleya, Sagarlo, Vilaseca, Zerbino, Gaminara, Beer, Nieto. Replacements: Klappenbach, Duran, Corral, Magno, Palomeque, Alonso, Duran, Blengio.

Referee: C Pollock (New Zealand).