I’m relived. Are you? After three and a half years of incredulity I can finally change the record. I thought Stuart Lancaster was a bizarre appointment to begin with – a Mike Bassett type fairy tale but nowhere near as funny – and it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to have my fears confirmed.
Lancaster is a good man by all accounts – and I know plenty of people with first hand experience of his honest and genuine nature – but he never had the credentials to handle such a big job. It was always going to end in disaster. I feel genuine sympathy for him.
Lancaster was given the opportunity to lead his country into a home world cup – his dream job – so nobody can blame him for accepting the challenge. He did his very best, and made some profound changes off the pitch, but his tactics were naïve and his nerve failed him under pressure.
It’s hardly Lancaster’s fault though. He should never have been put in this position to begin with. The real culprits are the RFU suits who decided to ignore tangible qualifications and go with misplaced gut instinct instead – for that is what it took to appoint someone with so little experience of top-level rugby.
Make no mistake about it. It’s the RFU who blew the World Cup, not Stuart Lancaster, Sam Burgess, or any other scapegoat. Yet the men at the top all seem to be keeping their jobs. How sad and predictable.
Although we’ve heard that Lancaster is leaving his post by ‘mutual consent’, some partings are more mutual than others. He said he was keen to stick around after the World Cup – something I found disappointing and quite astonishing in the circumstances – but after a rather lengthy review, which involved discussions with players and other stakeholders, he’s decided to step down. Or rather he was given the opportunity to step down. At least the RFU let him leave with some dignity.
A few nuggets emerged from the RFU press conference this afternoon. For starters it’s clear that Lancaster no longer enjoyed the support of all the players – hardly a surprise after his handling of Burgess and the exclusion of Luther Burrell. We heard that some players wanted him to stay (Robshaw anyone?) but others had lost faith.
We also learned that the RFU want to appoint a quality international coach to succeed Lancaster. If only they’d realised this was kind of important four years ago. Nationality, apparently, is not an issue this time. At least they’re being open-minded.
Rather ominously, however, Ian Ritchie and Bill Beaumont admitted that the search for a new coach may ‘take time’. Why do the wheels turn so slowly at the RFU? It was procrastination that led to Lancaster’s appointment in the first place.
With all Lancaster’s assistants retaining their positions for now, a cynic might foresee Andy Farrell becoming caretaker for the Six Nations. And what happens if Farrell leads England to a few wins? Give Farrell a four-year contract and then extend his deal until 2023 I suppose? Perhaps we shouldn’t joke.
Before I ask who you’d like to see as Lancaster’s permanent successor – and it seems most of the leading candidates are indeed from overseas – let’s just examine the broader context. Today’s press conference revealed that Ian Ritchie will have the ‘full support’ of the RFU board to appoint Lancaster’s successor. Erm, why?
Ian Ritchie was the man who hired Lancaster – one of the most head-scratching appointments I can recall in all my time watching sport. What on earth has Ritchie done to earn the RFU board’s trust? What on earth has he done to earn the public’s trust?
Once again English rugby has failed on a most fundamental level: before appointing a new coach, the RFU needed to install the right people to hire the right coach. Instead we have the same person – a person with a background in law and the media (and football believe it or not). This simply isn’t a rugby person, people.
Ian Ritchie is a businessman. He’s not a rugby man. He might know a lot about the politics of rugby, but he knows very little about the actual game. Let’s hope the new coach can breeze through his interviews, establish a position of strength, and then put Ritchie back in his box.
Talking of which, who would you like to see as the new man in charge? Quality English candidates are thin on the ground. Northampton’s Jim Mallinder is a strong candidate, but somehow he’s never totally convinced. Rob Baxter has performed wonders at Exeter, but much of this has resulted from building Exeter as a club from the ground-up. Being England head coach is a somewhat different brief.
In my humble opinion, the best English candidate would be Dean Ryan – simply because he talks so much sense and commands huge respect within the game. However, the broader public are probably unaware of the fantastic job he’s doing at my club (Worcester). I don’t think his appointment would go down well in the shires. He’s also probably burned his bridges at the RFU by highlighting some of their failings in his role as a pundit on Sky.
Consequently, I believe it’s inevitable that the next coach will be from overseas. Warren Gatland would be the dream candidate, but I doubt he’d leave Wales. Ditto Ireland’s Joe Schmidt. Vern Cotter might be a more realistic candidate, but we don’t know what his intentions are. He hasn’t been with Scotland that long.
That leaves a shortlist of Eddie Jones, Eddie Jones again, Nick Mallett, Jake White (who should have got the job instead of Lancaster) or possibly a dark horse like John Mitchell. Take your pick folks.