Young English side face big task against ABs

BY LIAM NAPIER IN LONDON
Last updated 08:56 01/12/2012
Stuart Lancaster
Getty
BIG TASK AHEAD: England coach Stuart Lancaster.

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England haven't beaten the All Blacks for nine years and, even with the best attacking intentions and bravado, this rookie outfit doesn't seem ready to overturn history tomorrow.

Maybe in three years, at the next Rugby World Cup, Stuart Lancaster's rebuild mission will be complete.

His green team will certainly be more ready then, than now.

How Lancaster would love to have the 787 test caps in Steve Hansen's run on XV, rather than his paltry 206.

"It would be nice to be sitting here as a coach with that group of players with that experience, but I'm not," he said enviously.

"I don't want to be sitting here in 2015 with an inexperienced side." First, he has to survive that long.

Lancaster was asked yesterday whether he had time to develop his youthful side, or the pressure of immediate results, after four defeats from the last six tests, were his main priority.

He paused, looked at the 20 British scribes and one Kiwi journalist and said: "Look at all these guys looking at me" as if to suggest the local reporters were his paymasters.

One piped up and said: "We'll be the judge of that" to confirm Lancaster's reservations before he continued with a scripted answer about living in the here and now.

That small exchange paints the picture of Lancaster's delicate balancing act.

After nearly one year in the top job he claims the journey is on track.

This week the road seems certain to hit a third straight speed bump; an All Blacks team that have steamrolled their way through the southern hemisphere and on to Europe, unbeaten.

Hansen's men resemble a truck and England's rookies could be caught in the headlights.

Not that Lancaster buys into the theory. A confident and comfortable character who projects his voice while fielding questions with his legs casually crossed, the 43-year-old is pushing the image of a revolutionary.

His commendable vision is to reinvigorate the turgid English game.

Not only has he cut ties with the old guard, he wants to completely rebrand their style of rugby and encourage expression.

There was a startling desire for fine weather and dry pitch at Twickenham so his under-aged men could embrace a high-tempo fast-paced game.

That statement has rarely, if ever, been heard through the swanky corridors of Pennyhill country club in Bagshot.

Gone were the days of dour accumulation.

"That's a stereotype of what the England mindset was years ago," he promised. "That's not the mindset now. Our players want to play in dry conditions and rugby that people enjoying watching.

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We've got good strike players. We want to get the ball in their hands."

There was fighting talk about the All Blacks too. They were dangerous, had to be respected, matched physically and England could not afford to be hypnotised by the world champion's aura.

But Lancaster made poignant reference to the draw in Brisbane, Ireland's second test scare in Christchurch, Argentina competing for 70 minutes in Wellington and, finally, a jibe about the closeness of the World Cup final against France.

And he was right on all counts.

"You can't fear them," he boldly claimed of the All Blacks.

"We've seen enough examples in the last 12 to 18 months where sides have gone at them and put them under pressure."

That may be the case.

For now, though, Lancaster's youth and enthusiasm needs more time.

- Stuff

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