Lancaster to map out route for England to follow

Owen Farrell. PA
Owen Farrell. PA
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Before any talk of game plans and strategies, Stuart Lancaster will sit his England squad down and begin instilling within them a new culture of respect and discipline.

It is quite apt that it will all take place at a Yorkshire venue known as the Sycamores. From small acorns do mighty oaks grow.

The surviving players tarnished by the World Cup fiasco may initially prove a barrier to break down, but Lancaster wants his players fetching practice balls, putting out the cones and mucking-in during their time in West Yorkshire. No matter who they are.

Hence the influx of fresh blood; 13 changes to the England squad that he named at West Park Leeds yesterday, nine of them untried and untested at the highest level.

Lancaster wants to build champions from people who think like champions, starting on January 23, on the first of what will be five days at the plush, if unfamiliar, surroundings of Bramhope.

“The first meeting will very much be about trying to get them to understand where we are going on the journey,” said Lancaster.

“It will be about trying to paint a vision for them, about what the future looks like, to get them excited and engaged in that.

“If we can achieve that, day two then becomes ‘let’s learn from what we haven’t done so well and let’s establish some real ground rules about what we want to do as a group’.

“That will come in the form of written rules, a code of conduct that we will go through, but there will also be those unwritten rules about behaviour that elite performers should abide by.

“We’ll work through those, we’ll have leadership meetings in the morning, and we’ll talk it through over the rest of the week.”

Evening appointments with cycling guru Dave Brailsford, England cricket’s managing director Hugh Morris, and the Leeds Rhinos rugby league duo of Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield are scheduled.

“There’ll be one or two other things,” continued Lancaster. “We’ll show them a video of where England want to go.

“Things like that start to shape a culture. And if we do that then I think we’ll harness the energy we’ve got.

“I think after that week, as a group, we’ll be tight, definitely.”

Lancaster has shaped personalities before, in his time as a teacher at Wakefield’s Kettlethorpe High School.

He is comfortable stood at the front of a classroom, responding to all the inquisitive eyes focusing on him.

Judging by the way he has carried himself in his few weeks as the face of English rugby, he could quite easily be a motivational speaker.

His aim with England is to build a winning culture through standards and values.

But England do not just require a public image facelift. Their style on the rugby pitch, where it matters most, also needs surgery.

Their interim head coach is a student of the game, particularly of a brand of rugby that excites.

He is not afraid to peer across the fence at the 13-man game, and is envious of how league players have more time and space to exploit and score tries.

Lancaster believes in attacking rugby that makes a defender think. He envisages his backs enjoying a freedom of movement, interchanging up and down the line at speed and creating a depth of attack.

The key to that intelligent re-alignment across the backline is communication, the foundations of which will be built in camp.

“We’ve got a responsibility to get the culture right, then layer on the leadership and the attacking foundation,” continued Lancaster.

“We want to play a game that excites people, while recognising that on a day like today we’ve got to maul.”

Step forward Graeme Rowntree, Lancaster’s forwards coach and the only survivor from Martin Johnson’s regime, who will oversee England’s Plan B from that very English of platforms – the maul.

Rowntree was quick yesterday to move past any lingering fallout from New Zealand.

“It’s important to have a change,” said Rowntree. “A new start, a new squad, new surroundings – (this place) is perfect practice for Murrayfield. It’s a grass-roots club.”

West Park Leeds have four senior teams and a junior programme that runs from Under-6s all the way up to the Colts at the top end of the teenage bracket. They also have two girls teams and 10 pitches at their Sycamores home.

And from the England team’s week in the real world, Lancaster hopes and expects leaders to emerge.

He will appoint a captain at the end of that first week. Lancaster also wants positional captains, for instance Charlie Hodgson would lead the half-backs.

“My view on captaincy is that the most important thing is to get the leadership group right,” said Lancaster. “We need to develop a new group of leaders. There’s a group that have left this squad and a new group that needs to step up.

“Whether it’s a Dylan Hartley, a Ben Youngs, a Charlie Hodgson, or a Toby Flood; they’re the names I’m looking to to become the future leaders of England.

“Good players, good characters, talented, who we want to give experience to so that we can have some sustainability beyond Murrayfield. Leadership grows within people and groups.

“We need to help them shape it a little bit, but the ultimate aim is for the players to drive the culture and control the programme.

“We’ll be giving them every encouragement to do that, and we’ll be having our steer on it from the very start.”