Lancaster is tasked with restoring pride in the national team

0
Have your say

Outside Cumbria, West Yorkshire and rugby union circles, very few people will have heard of Stuart Lancaster.

But in the coming weeks his will be the name on the tips of many tongues as he attempts to steer England towards calmer waters.

For the former Leeds Carnegie player and coach has been named as the interim successor to Martin Johnson, the man to temporarily resuscitate the national team of the biggest union in world rugby.

Lancaster finds English rugby on its knees, riven by in-fighting at the top and shamed by its performances on and off the pitch at last autumn’s World Cup.

He has the five games of the Six Nations to try and right a few wrongs. Not even victory in the storied tournament is a priority.Lancaster’s job is to make England proud of its national team again.

He, and particularly the players, have a very long way to go to heel the wounds of New Zealand, when boozy nights out and shameful acts off the pitch and on the sidelines (remember ballgate?) led to a very public dismantling of the sport’s good name.

Lancaster has already told the Yorkshire Post that he wants to take his England team around the country to ‘re-engage with the people’.

That would be a good start. Winning a few matches will also help, although after the soft schedule Johnson enjoyed in the Spring of 2011 as England won the Six Nations, his short-term successor has a much tougher path with trips to Edinburgh, Rome and Paris accompanying dates at Twickenham with Wales and Ireland, teams who had far better World Cup experiences.

On the conclusion of the Six Nations, Lancaster will hand over the reins to a more experienced international coach to build on the foundations he has laid and take England into the next World Cup cycle. Before the June tour to South Africa, the Rugby Football Union want that honour-laden, world-renowned coach in place.

It is a crucial decision for the governing body, who emerge from 2011 with their own reputation in tatters. At last, though, a chief executive has been found, and an organised management structure of the team is being rolled out.

Very few caps will have been doffed in the direction of the RFU in recent months, but in deciding not to rush this pivotal appointment, they deserve credit.

Whoever is deemed the man to lead England, his biggest test will be the Autumn Internationals in November, when the southern hemisphere heavyweights return to what, against Johnson’s limited teams, proved to be a very happy hunting ground for them.

England have a long way to go, but if the World Cup debacle left any legacy, it may be that it is there where they bottomed out.