Five things for Lancaster to ponder in Leeds

When Stuart Lancaster stood up to address dignitaries and children at a secondary school in Morley last week, his first words were aimed at the journalists scatterred in the audience.

Stuart Lancaster at West Park Leeds RUFC Rugby Union club.

“The fact that Bruntcliffe School has won this national prize is nothing to do with the fact that I live 10 miles away,” he joked, before moving on to the official matter of unveiling England’s new home shirt.

It was more coincidence than convenience that Bruntcliffe had been selected out of 104 schools after their entry demonstrated best how the core values of rugby had influenced them.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Still, the fact that it was a Leeds school on the doorstep of England’s head coach underlined how much of a northern stronghold the city is becoming for the national team.

On Monday, the England senior squad roll into town for a week-long training camp when, for the first time since the Six Nations in the Spring, Lancaster will have his full squad together.

This pre-series camp here in West Yorkshire is becoming an established part of England’s preparations for major tournaments.

Lancaster brought England up to his adopted home city before each of the last two Six Nations championships.

The first time he did so in January, 2012 proved a major part of his attempt to reconnect the national team with a public that had grown disillusioned with them.

They held an open training sessions at Weetwood Hall – their base for the week – attended by thousands of local school children who were in thrall at seeing their idols being put through their paces.

Such was the interest in that open session that it was replicated 12 months later, but at Headingley Carnegie, because of the need to accommodate the amount of children and adults who wanted to see their heroes up close.

Lancaster has held evenings for upwards of 250 local coaches with whom he shares stories and tactics, while also inviting their thoughts and observations.

In the first camp, he brought in speakers like Gary Neville and Jamie Peacock from other sports to instil in men who wear the Red Rose of England the sense of pride which such an honour brings.

England under Lancaster have been open and transparent, and nowhere is that more obvious than here in Leeds.

This is the first time he has brought the squad up before an autumn series, and with the week-long session proving a major bonding time for his players, and a chance for them to connect with the support base, the likelihood is he will continue doing so right up until the 2015 World Cup.

The facilities at England’s disposal in Leeds have helped. For two of their training sessions next week, they will use the 3G surface, pristine pitches and state-of-the-art facilities at West Park Leeds’s Sycamores ground.

For the amateur club, having regular visitors like England is a significant pat on the back.

Six years ago, they took the money made out of the sale of the Roundhay ground at Chandos Park and reinvested it into a ground and training facility the envy of some national league clubs.

West Park secretary Rob Storey said: “It’s very good for the club and it helps get our name out there.

“We’re growing as a club. We put four teams out last week for the first time in months, and we have a women’s team, and it’s all because of the facilities we have.

“England coming here helps with the kudos of the club and they do seem to be coming back so they must really appreciate the facilities.

“I really think it puts the north of England on the rugby map. With Stuart Lancaster being readily accessible, regardless of how busy he is, he puts himself around a lot of clubs and that is great for the sport in Yorkshire.”

Such modern, professional facilities were beyond comprehension a quarter-of-a-century ago for 
Mike Harrison, who captained England in the first World Cup in 1987 and represented Yorkshire 53 times.

The long-time Wakefield back had to travel to Stourbridge on a Wednesday night to meet his England team-mates ahead of internationals.

But those were the amateur days, and Harrison appreciates now that in the professional arena, preparations have to be more wide-ranging.

He feels the fact that some of that work is done here in Yorkshire should be a source of great pride for the county.

Harrison said: “We might not have a Premiership team in Yorkshire, but the region is still a hotbed of union.

“It has always been a major participation sport here in Yorkshire and, as ever, we’ll welcome the England team with open arms.

“It’s great for both parties. The England team get to see how well supported they are up in the north, and what grass-roots rugby is all about.

“People are really proud of the England team, and when the players see that they realise how much it is about playing for the shirt and what that shirt means.

“At Twickenham, you might get 50 per cent of rugby fans in the ground and the 50 per cent are commercial partners etcetera.

“So, in a camp like this in Leeds, with the ability to connect with the public, it shows to the players that they are supported throughout the country, and especially here in Yorkshire.

“For Yorkshire, it’s nice to be playing such a prominent role in the development of this England squad.

“The training facilities up at West Park are excellent and with this being their third trip up here there’s going to be a bit of familiarity about it.

“It’s great for Yorkshire, Leeds and the county’s rugby fraternity.

“They are all very proud of Stuart Lancaster and he recognises the grounding he got in Yorkshire rugby.”