Exclusive: Leeds experience will help Lancaster to revive England after World Cup flop

Leeds v Wasps'Farewell for Stuart Lancaster
Leeds v Wasps'Farewell for Stuart Lancaster
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For Stuart Lancaster, his interim tenure as head coach of England is more about process than results.

If after the Six Nations he relinquishes the reins of a disciplined, vibrant, re-energised England squad ready to move into the future with optimism, he will have done his job.

He may not be able to sit back with pride and revel in the achievement until England have won the World Cup in 2015.

But for a man with a short-term mission it is all about propelling England towards a long-term goal.

Even winning the Six Nations, or a grand slam, is not necessarily the ulterior motive.

In that respect the first few weeks of his England tenure bear a striking resemblance to the summer of 2006 when he succeeded Phil Davies as director of rugby at Leeds Carnegie.

Lancaster inherited a West Yorkshire club devastated by relegation from the Premiership and decimated by high-profile departures.

He had just seven players on his books. On January 11, 2012, he will pick a 32-man elite player squad for a national team that has been left on its backside after a quarter-final exit at the World Cup.

“I took on the Leeds job in similar circumstances,” recalled Lancaster, who succeeded Martin Johnson as England’s interim head coach.

“We had to build a culture in very challenging circumstances.

“But everyone pulled together and everyone got us promoted.

“Ultimately we went straight back down. But we had created a positive atmosphere and a team spirit that still lasts today.”

Critics will point to the fact that Leeds were relegated after just two wins in Lancaster’s second and final season before he left for a position within the RFU.

And that the club are now back in the second tier.

But in those two seasons Lancaster built on the foundations he helped lay in his previous guise as the club’s academy director.

And Leeds is now renowned as one of the best rugby union academies in the country, and in Diccon Edwards they have a current head coach who is a disciple of Lancaster’s policy of placing faith in young players.

“My time at Leeds shaped who I am,” said Lancaster, who spent nearly two decades with the club as a back-row forward who played more than 100 times, and as an integral part of their back-room staff.

“They played a massive part in my career. I owe them a huge amount.

“Phil Davies gave me my first job. Gary Hetherington (chief executive) and Paul Caddick (owner) then placed their trust in me.”

And no matter how many emerging players he names in his elite player squad on January 11, they will have to be integrated with a core of seasoned international campaigners.

Part of the problem out in New Zealand was the lack of discipline instilled in the squad, on and off the pitch.

But Lancaster will not be intimidated by household names or inflated egos.

He said: “When I moved on from Leeds to the international set-up I quickly realised that players are players, no matter who they are.

“They need to be treated in the same way.

“They need a clear philosophy. I have coaches with me (Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell) who have coached a lot of good players and I know people like Danny Care from my Leeds days.

“I don’t feel intimidated. I understand that we have got to get our bit right as coaches.

“As head coach I have responsibility for everything; leadership, management, the whole dynamic of the media.

“My job is to give the players a simple and effective formula to work from.

“There is a lot of talent there and this is about building foundations. You need strong foundations. They are critical.

“It will provide the basis going forward; putting strong foundations in place with a talented squad who all want to play rugby for their country.”

Lancaster may have a small coaching structure to the one employed by Johnson, but he intends to seek the council of former players like Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson, and plans to visit Jonny Wilkinson in the south of France in January.

“You’ve got a hell of a lot of experience in those players. I’d be foolish not to use that,” said Lancaster.

“But it’s my philosophy to have a small coaching team.

“I’m comfortable that we’ve got all the bases covered. We’ll bring in specialists for things such as lineout drills and kicking.

“I’ve spent 20 years coaching. I’ve got two great coaches alongside me, both of whom have come from strong climates. There’s great experience between the three of us.

“And I want to stay hands on, on the coaching field.”

This significant step up in job responsibility, albeit temporary, has brought a dramatic change to Lancaster’s lifestyle already.

On the cancellation of his son’s Under-11s game at West Park Leeds on Sunday he was straight down the M1 to see Northampton defeat Castres; a game in which Ben Foden scored two tries to press upon the new head coach his claims to retain the full-back’s jersey ahead of the in-form Harlequins No 15 Mike Brown.

Then it was off to Bath on Monday and back at his desk at Twickenham yesterday to continue planning for England’s Six Nations campaign which begins at Murrayfield, on Saturday, February 4.

“It’s been a significant change, and not just the workload,” said Lancaster, who takes England to Edinburgh, Rome and Paris in the storied tournament, as well as welcoming Ireland and World Cup semi-finalists Wales to headquarters.

“We’re starting on the back foot in terms of planning and picking the players and discussing it all with the coaches and the club directors of rugby.

“I’ve always been good at short- and long-term planning and that’s all going to be important over the next few weeks.

“There’s the key dates of course with the naming of the elite player squad on January 11 and then the camps, which I’m looking at taking around the country.

“In the Six Nations we will be playing against five experienced sides, with experienced coaching set-ups.

“We have got a lot of work to do and we have to hit the ground running.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for me. It’s a privilege and an honour.

“And I’m aware of the responsibility the post carries.”

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk