This is a cricket blog, so I never really get to express my love of rugby union. If the England cricket team is my first love, then Worcester Warriors – another team that have given me a rollercoaster ride over the years – are my second. You could say I’m married to both.
I was lucky enough to be at Twickenham last weekend to see England lose to Wales. I say ‘lucky’ because the atmosphere was superb, it was a great day out, and I’m half Welsh.
However, I felt very sad at the prospect of England (another team I’ve supported through thick and thin over the years) being knocked out at the group stages of their own world cup. We’ll need to beat Australia, the current southern hemisphere champions, on Saturday to progress. Not an impossible task, but pretty effing close to it.
Although Stuart Lancaster and his captain Chris Robshaw can still save their tournament, I have to admit I’m not a particular fan of either. Lancaster seems like a nice chap, but he was insanely fortunate to land the England job. I really despaired when the RFU appointed him because he simply doesn’t have the credentials or experience needed for the job.
Here’s a quick recap in case you don’t know his story. It’s a bit of a Mike Bassett fairytale if I’m being honest with you.
A few years ago Lancaster was a rookie coach at Leeds. He got his side promoted from the championship (that’s the second tier) in his first season but his second season was a nightmare. Leeds won just two games all season and were relegated.
Rather than getting sacked however, Lancaster was offered a job at the RFU coaching young players. He took it. I suppose you could call him a bit of a Gareth Southgate – a novice club manager with a dodgy record who found a niche at the sport’s governing body.
As Lancaster is a likeable soul who works hard, he began to make friends and influence people. When Martin Johnson was sacked after England’s poor showing at the last World Cup (although he won the Six Nations championship beforehand), the RFU decided it needed a few months to find a successor. Heaven knows why but that’s what they decided.
There was just one problem: the Six Nations started in a few weeks time so they needed a caretaker. As Lancaster was already at the RFU and not contracted to a premiership club (none of whom would have wanted him anyway given his inexperience and previous lack of success) the former Leeds boss was in the right place and the right time.
After leading England to victories in the games they normally win anyway (Scotland at home etc), but not actually winning the Six Nations, the RFU confused the ‘new manager bounce’ that most teams experience in all sports, with Lancaster being some kind of alchemist. Yes, they really are that stupid.
Even though experienced international coaches like Nick Mallet and Jake White (who had actually won the World Cup with South Africa) applied for the position, the RFU made Lancaster the permanent boss – even though his CV showed just two premiership wins in his entire career, zero victories in the top tier of European rugby, and an empty trophy cabinet.
And what were the press doing when all this happened? They were charmed by Lancaster’s personality, fooled by a load of management speak and became enamoured with his patriotic cliches. They welcomed his appointment enthusiastically. The numpties.
But why is this relevant to cricket you may ask? Well, it’s because Giles Clarke and Paul Downton quickly became signed up members of the Stuart Lancaster fan club too.
They proclaimed Lancaster’s England as a model they’d like to emulate after the Ashes whitewash. One wonders if they did their research. Lancaster still hasn’t won the Six Nations. Perhaps they liked his penchant for axing talented rebels like Danny Cipriani, Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi. Apparently these wild children can’t be accommodated in the England team, even though they’re bloody good, because it would set a bad example and undermine team spirit. Kevin *cough* Pietersen *cough *.
Here’s some quotes from the big man, Clarke, himself. You can read the full article here.
Lancaster has done a fantastic job. In a very short space of time, he has sorted out English rugby. He’s talked the language of teams that Paul Downton and I like very much.
I really hope England can prove everyone wrong tomorrow. We have a decent record against Australia at home, so anything is possible. However, as the England rugby team stand on the brink of elimination from their own world cup, it’s interesting to reflect on Clarke and Downton’s wisdom.
As Peter Moores proved (twice), management speak and impressing at interview are no substitute for knowledge, intuition and experience. At least Peter Moores had won more than two matches in his domestic league though.