The England rugby union team departed their training camp in Leeds last night with Stuart Lancaster hailing the venture as a huge success.
Lancaster wanted the squad’s first get-together of the Six Nations campaign to be about healing the wounds of a damaging World Cup.
And after conducting a training session in front of 2,500 schoolchildren at Weetwood Hall in Leeds yesterday, England’s interim head coach declared that their Yorkshire visit had been everything he had hoped it would be and more.
“At the outset, when I got the job and I thought about what I would do for the camp there were a number of objectives,” said Lancaster, who finished the week by giving a talk to 150 local coaches last night.
“One was to reconnect with the public and to re-engage with the media.
“Another was to get training conditions similar to what we’ll face next week in Scotland.
“And then I wanted to listen to other people outside of our sport, which we have done.
“But mainly it was all about building a culture and getting the team on the same page from a technical and tactical point of view.
“And I think we’ve gone a long way to achieving that. But it’s only stage one of a 10-stage process and next week we’ve got to really narrow down our focus and get into the technical and tactical detail in preparation for what is a massive game for us.”
Lancaster’s bold approach to rehabilitating England’s suffering image all hinged on how well the players would respond to it.
Exposing his players to the people and the elements of Yorkshire was a calculated move, designed to get them bonding.
Enticing guest speakers of the calibre of Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Gary Neville was also an educated gamble; all of which appears to have paid off as Lancaster was able to report yesterday that his players had embraced their week in the White Rose county.
“The players have been absolutely fantastic,” said Lancaster.
“To a man they’ve committed to it. They did the community work yesterday when 20 players turned up to coach young lads.
“Today we had a weights session that was optional and virtually all of them did it.
“They are hungry and they want to work hard and they want to get the show back on the road, and it’s been a great week.
“And the talks we had were brilliant. The boys loved them.
“Gary (Neville) talked about the power of playing in 1996, at the Euros when all the country was behind them. He talked about the pressure of being an international player but also the opportunity of it.
“He finished, as Jamie (Peacock) did, by saying everyone is behind you. England football want England rugby to do well. England rugby league want England rugby union to do well.
“To have that come from your peers is a powerful thing. And the players respect that.”
Yesterday’s open session in front of invited schoolchildren from around the county proved a huge hit.
Little pockets of training drills were conducted around the pitch and autograph sessions afterwards continued even as the sky over Leeds darkened.
“I wasn’t expecting this many down to be honest,” continued Lancaster.
“A session like this does two things really; it gives the public the opportunity to see us train, but it also reminds the England players about what it means to be an England player, and that was the important thing for me.
“For the young players they coached last night (Thursday), that will live with those young kids forever.
“For the guys who have watched us here today, they’ll remember it for a long time. So it’s been great in that regard.
“And to get 125-150 coaches coming on Friday night, when there could have been double that, it’s just great for me to give something back to the community. And even when I looked around the training pitch this morning there were so many faces I recognised, all of them wishing us well, which is brilliant.”
England’s reconnection with the public will be rendered irrelevant if they do not deliver on the pitch in the Six Nations.
They will reconvene at their traditional base of Pennyhill Park, Surrey, on Monday when Lancaster will name his captain.
Dylan Hartley and George Robshaw are the likely contenders.
“We’ve got a pretty clear idea on the captain. We’ll have another meeting and then sleep on it over the weekend,” said Lancaster.
“We have a clear idea on the team as well. I said from the outset, you just need time to work with players, and although I’d worked with 75 per cent of them there was still a lot I hadn’t.
“I’ve got a better idea now of individual players’ talents, abilities and personalities, and that’s a big thing in terms of shaping the squad.
“We’ve got to get into the real detail next week, get into the side, get them organised.
“Monday and Tuesday are big days in terms of training.
“The excitement will build towards the game and in some ways that’s what coaching is all about, dealing with the big games. So it’s going to be an exciting week.
“But I’ve loved this week. If you’d have said to me you’ll go and listen to Kevin Sinfield talk, Gary Neville and guys like that, and you’re going to have an opportunity to build individual relationships with certain players, then I’d have been happy.
“I’ve really enjoyed it.”