The embattled Stuart Lancaster has called for a swift conclusion to the postmortem into England’s World Cup failure, suggesting his future could be resolved in the next “couple of weeks”.
In the wake of England’s World Cup exit after just three matches the Rugby Football Union’s chief executive, Ian Ritchie, had vowed not to make any kneejerk decisions and to consider rationally the future of the head coach and his assistants. But Lancaster, whose future remains in grave doubt though he could yet be offered another a position within the RFU, advocated a swift conclusion and also revealed he had no objection to the review being made public.
“I’m happy to talk about anything in an open and honest way,” he said. “If things can be done better, let’s discuss and debate them in an informed way. But it is difficult now because I understand there is a need for everyone to know what’s going to happen next. It would be good if the review was allowed to be done properly, privately, professionally and speedily, then whatever happens happens.”
In outlining his view that all coaches have a natural lifespan but that it took longer to build a team in the international arena, Lancaster suggested he had decided against walking away immediately after Saturday’s match.
“I’ll wait and see how I feel and how the RFU feel in the next couple of weeks. But I do think, once we get over the emotion – and no one is more disappointed than me, we haven’t delivered in two games – it shouldn’t take away from the position the team is in at the moment. It should continue to get better,” he said.
All involved want to avoid a repeat of the messy multiple reviews that followed England’s disastrous 2011 World Cup campaign in New Zealand, with contentsleaking into the public domain at various points. Lancaster said that it was important that the review, which Ritchie has insisted will be narrowly drawn to focus on Lancaster and his three senior coaches – Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt – did not drag on. “The Six Nations is just around the corner and life goes on and people need to know what the outcome is,” he said, adding that it was important it did not become an ongoing distraction.
Before the dead rubber against Uruguay in Manchester, for which Lancaster has made eight personnel changes to his team, he also challenged the suggestion that there was any disharmony in the camp. Concerns over Farrell’s influence on selection and reservations over Sam Burgess being parachuted in 10 months after switching codes were said to have caused division. But Lancaster said the squad’s unity was one of the things he was most proud of.
“If there is one thing I’m determined to do this week it’s to finish with everything intact. I think you guys are looking for conspiracy theories which just aren’t there. Because it’s a rock solid team with a rock solid culture – and good people,” said Lancaster, appointed to the role permanently in 2012. “There’s going to be boys who are disappointed about selection or whatever but I had a one-to-one with every player yesterday and my relationship with them has always been strong and it always will remain strong.”
Lancaster also moved to defend Chris Robshaw, whose leadership qualities and place in the team have come under severe scrutiny, saying it was wrong to focus blame on the captain. “The implication was that somehow he has not performed as a player or a captain and that the whole thing revolved around him. I don’t understand that line of questioning to be honest,” he said.
The England head coach said he knew nothing about rumours linking Burgess to a return to a rugby league less than 12 months after switching codes. Some bookmakers closed the book on the Bath player signing for Leeds Rhinos after a run of bets but it remains unlikely that the rugby league outfit could afford the move – even if Burgess wanted to switch back so soon.
“My last conversation with him was about going back to Bath and he can’t wait to get stuck into the Premiership,” said Lancaster, who put his reputation on the line by picking Burgess at centre for the Wales match but has not selected him in the 23 for the Uruguay game. “He feels he’s made good strides as a player and he wants to continue to improve. Bath will be delighted to have him back and I can’t see anything changing in that regard.”
Lancaster concluded his was a “brilliant job but a tough job” given the requirement to win every game and the complexities involved. “I understand that, not having nailed a Six Nations or a grand slam and certainly not having nailed this World Cup there is no room for error. Obviously that’ll all be taken in to consideration over the next few weeks.”