Snook: England ready to battle with big boys
It has taken a while but it now appears English rugby has moved in to the ''real world'' and are ready to take a crack at knocking off the regular Southern Hemisphere top three in the IRB rankings.
They have been there before, winning the World Cup in 2003 and topping the rankings in 2004, but for a country possessing almost half of the world's rugby players, they have been more of an irritant than a threat, and have only succeeded in bullying those nations such as Argentina, Scotland, Ireland and Italy.
Then along comes Stuart Lancaster. Why on earth the RFU would have the foresight to appoint a former competent player with no international caps and no high level coaching success at club level remains a mystery to those on the outside.
Obviously though someone saw something special in Lancaster, and even before his appointment to the big job, at the age of 42 he had masterminded three Churchill Cups (England B v Canada and USA), and had played a role in England playing in four finals in five years in the Junior World Cup. This is no ordinary John Bull.
Already with a winning per centage of 64 after 28 internationals, including a 2013 which had eight victories from 10 tests, following on from the record victory against the All Blacks at Twickenham in December 2012, Lancaster is building an impressive record.
Of course what everyone really likes about Lancaster, or fears, if you suspect it is going to cause problems for the All Blacks, is the game plan being implemented by his charges. No longer are the old World War II tanks rumbling up the field to blast and smash away at an enemy that occasionally got caught in the headlights. Instead each player has his own unique attributes which are being moulded into a team with many attacking variations and an uncompromising defence. It's a scary thought.
Of course to direct this onfield army, a player with an astute rugby mind is required, with an ability to work under pressure. Just as Lancaster steps up in to his role, so too does flyhalf Owen Farrell. Brian Lochore had Grant Fox. Rod McQueen had Stephen Larkham. Clive Woodward relied on the great Jonny Wilkinson. All these combinations won a World Cup. The coach and the flyhalf are often the masterminds of success.
Farrell's introduction to professional rugby was as a teenager, and now with 24 tests behind him at the age of 22, a kicking per centage of almost 80, a nomination as the IRB Player of the Year, a British and Irish Lions cap, a Premiership winner's medal, a statistic that in one international he made the most tackles of all the English players, and family genes that ooze success, he is lining up alongside Lancaster as the next great pairing in world rugby.
Just whether England can win the World Cup in 2015 remains to be seen, but there is every indication that they could soon become the new world power. They have only missed two finals in the six contested in the Junior World Cup, an indication that professional rugby is moulding a heap of talent in to something that could be special. The sleeping giant is on the rise.
Then again there were a couple of occasions last Saturday when the kick replaced what should have been passed and an opportunity was lost. Let's hope the final piece of the jigsaw, the decision making on the run, keeps causing problems and cannot be solved.
Saturday will be an interesting next step for the men in white.
Taranaki Daily News