Did RFU get Lancaster call wrong?

Date published: October 1 2014

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The RFU took a massive gamble two and half years ago when they chose Stuart Lancaster to lead England after their World Cup fiasco but after relative success during that time, they’ve doubled down by offering Lancaster a new six-year deal.

The question is, did they need to? And what have they actually gained by offering Lancaster this deal?

By the time his new contract runs out, Lancaster will have been in charge for eight years, the longest tenure of any coach in England’s history.

It’s a bold move by the RFU and shows faith that they have the right man, but eight years in rugby is a huge length of time.

Even for a coach like Lancaster, who has shown he is prepared to look outside the sport for new ideas, keeping your philosophy fresh for that long is tough.

And the fact that the backroom staff will also remain the same over that period means the players will listen to the same coaches for all that time.

There are obvious parallels with Eddie O’Sullivan’s time in Ireland, when he secured a new deal prior to the 2007 World Cup, before a disastrous showing left the IRFU with a lame duck on their hands.

The World Cup disappointment came when Ireland failed to get out of the competition’s hardest group, although they didn’t have the advantage of playing on home soil like England next year.

Now of course O’Sullivan is remembered as much for that failure as he is for the consistent success he achieved with Ireland.

It’s important to point out though, that like Lancaster, O’Sullivan turned Ireland into regular Six Nations contenders, finishing second in the tournament on four occasions while collecting three Triple Crowns.

The efforts of Declan Kidney and Joe Schmidt since have probably harmed his reputation, but it’s not impossible that Lancaster follows a similar path.

Of course many will jump to Lancaster’s defence and point out that Graham Henry and Sir Clive Woodward were still successful at the end of long periods in charge, or just before in Woodward’s case, but neither was afforded the same job security.

And while there have certainly been promising signs under Lancaster, who seems to be getting the best out of his players, England are still without a win away to the big three during his time in charge, and of course are still looking for a first Six Nations title.

After all Martin Johnson won the Six Nations in 2011 and was out of a job by the end of the year because of England’s failure at the World Cup.

Even if Lancaster avoids all the disastrous off-field antics that marred England’s last campaign, it’s difficult to see how he could legitimately continue if England crash out before the knockout stages of a home World Cup – a possibility given the difficulty of the group.

This is a huge vote of confidence from the RFU, and reward for Lancaster for a promising start to his time in charge, but it’s difficult to see what the real benefit is to locking him down long-term.

If England are successful in 2015, it would have been a no-brainer to keep him, and difficult to see Lancaster wanting to go elsewhere given the talent coming through, and if it all goes wrong, the RFU would have had an easy out.

Of course this deal gives Lancaster and his coaching team greater stability, but he’s already made it clear that he’s planning ahead in any case.

From Lancaster and the coaches’ point of view, this was the sort of offer you can’t turn down.

As for the RFU, it’s a brave call and we’ll see just how wise it was in a little over a year.

By Paul Eddison

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