Lancaster looks to restore pride of English game

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Stuart Lancaster has called on his players to make the country proud as England begin a new era at Murrayfield today.

England’s interim head coach has proved a huge success in altering perceptions in the wake of the World Cup debacle.

He has ruled with an iron fist in banishing misbehaving players.

He has sought to change the culture in the dressing room and to reconnect the players with the public and the media.

And he introduced stars from other sports to impart to his players what it means to represent their county.

Now Lancaster is challenging his young, inexperienced squad to continue that good work today with a solid performance and a first victory in a Calcutta Cup match in Edinburgh since 2004.

The former Leeds player and coach said: “The majority of the squad is only 25-26, but there are eight of them who were involved in the World Cup.

“This is their first chance to pull on the white shirt since then.

“Clearly, not everything was right about New Zealand, but this is a new team, new players, new management and we have to go and do the country proud.

“I get the sense now that people are seeing that this is a team that they can get behind again.

“Pride in playing for England has always been there, it’s never not been there.

“There’s only a certain group of players lucky enough to have played for England. We want England supporters to get behind us and to be proud of us.”

Lancaster has effectively three games in this year’s Six Nations to impress upon the Rugby Football Union that he is the man to continue this England’s team’s journey into the next World Cup in 2015.

The RFU will name a permanent head coach before the summer tour to South Africa but plan to have one in mind by the end of February. Lancaster would gladly embrace that opportunity just as wholeheartedly as he has taken on the challenge of picking England up off the floor.

“My personal philosophy is that it is all about the team,” said the 42-year-old former Wakefield schoolteacher.

“I want England to do well. But you cannot be a team that goes from one game to the next. You have to have long-term plans and forward thinking. As interim head coach I see that as my responsibility. Everything I have done has been to try and make the team successful.

“Culture, techniques, tactics – now it comes down to getting the individuals right. And if you cannot get motivated to play for England then you shouldn’t be in the shirt.”

His hopes rest in the hands of the men he has chosen to take on Scotland today.

Lancaster last month named a Six Nations squad showing 13 changes to the men who left New Zealand with the reputation of English rugby in tatters, and including nine uncapped players.

He has now whittled that down to a starting XV that includes three debutants in Saracens centres Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell, and Northampton No 8 Phil Dowson.

York-born hooker Rob Webber is one of five uncapped players set to debut from the bench while Charlie Hodgson is the man tasked with pulling the strings from fly-half, the Halifax-born No 10 making his first start in four years. Former Leeds lock Tom Palmer and Rotherham wing David Strettle start in a side that shows seven changes from the men who featured in England’s dire World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of France back in October.

Lancaster’s starting line-up boasts just 236 Test caps – including Lions appearances – compared to Scotland’s 501.

“I’m not going to predict a result,” said Lancaster. “We have only been together 10 days, playing against a team as experienced as Scotland.

“We are going out there to win. We want to win but also to make sure people watching from home can see what we are trying to achieve and to get behind us.”

England have not won at Murrayfield in their last three visits.

There has not been a try in this fixture since England ran in four in a 35-13 win in 2004.

How they fare today could go a long way to determining how successful Lancaster will be in the job and how long the stamp he has placed on the England set-up will last.

Scotland v England Murrayfield, 5pm BBC1 HD

Scotland: R Lamont; L Jones, N De Luca, S Lamont, M Evans; D Parks, C Cusiter; A Jacobsen, R Ford (capt), E Murray, R Gray, J Hamilton, A Strokosch, R Rennie, D Denton. Replacements: S Lawson, G Cross, A Kellock, J Barclay, M Blair, G Laidlaw, G Morrison

England: B Foden; C Ashton, B Barritt, O Farrell, D Strettle; C Hodgson, B Youngs; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, D Cole, M Botha, T Palmer, T Croft, C Robshaw (capt), P Dowson. Replacements: R Webber (Wasps), M Stevens (Saracens), G Parling (Leicester), B Morgan (Scarlets), L Dickson (Northampton), J Turner-Hall (Harlequins), M Brown (Harlequins).

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).