Stuart Lancaster has reflected on his first year in charge of England by stating that his squad is much stronger than it was in 2012.
Stuart Lancaster has reflected on his first year in charge of England by stating that his side are much stronger one year on.
England opted for the inexperienced Lancaster and single-capped flanker Chris Robshaw to lead them into the 2012 Six Nations, finishing in second place and building on their performance with a famous win over New Zealand last November.
“This time last year we were sat here on the back of a World Cup with 15 new caps and a new captain and the key was getting the culture right,” said Lancaster.
“We've not won every game but we've never been smashed in any of them.
“With the culture we have now, the trick is to build on that All Blacks performance and get that consistency to win at the highest level – there is no better opportunity to do that than in the Six Nations.”
The England coach confirmed in an injury update that Tom Johnson would miss the tournament after an MCL injury, with Freddie Burns and Alex Corbisiero both set to miss the opening weeks of this year's tournament with knee problems of their own.
Lancaster's first year has seen a deliberate emphasis on maintaining the connection between grassroots rugby in England and the international side, as well as changing the image of the side following the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Managing the various aspects to the role is something Lancaster cites as his biggest learning curve so far.
“The size of the job and the number of moving parts to it – the relationship between club and country, the media – it's about keeping all the plates spinning in terms of my role as a head coach and getting the balance right between coaching the team and managing the team,” added Lancaster.
“We have the same coaching team now (the group from the November Internationals) for the first time, the same group of players give or take and generally a good understanding of what we are about culturally.
“It's a better starting point, but equally it all counts for nothing if we don't prepare properly for Scotland.
“People are optimistic now about the journey that we're taking – we decided in investing in a group that would take us through to 2015 and even against the All Blacks we only had just over 200 caps in comparison to their 788 – but I think the public have seen that and are massively behind the team now.
“It helps when the country is behind you and not against you.”
England will host Scotland, France and Italy at Twickenham, but despite playing the majority of their fixtures at home Lancaster acknowledges that nothing can be taken for granted.
“Scotland at home on the backing of the new coaching team is a difficult game. Two years ago we were four out of four and went to Ireland and got smashed and then two years before that at Croke Park we were beaten even more,” he stated.
“Every game is tough. It helps having three games at home, but every game is going to be tough and that's the beauty of the tournament.
“The challenge for us is to hit the ground running and get that consistency we had in the New Zealand game. What we did well that day was not back up an error on an error – that is what we strive towards.
“What was important were not the tries or the scoreline, but being down to 14 men at the end and defending on our own line and not conceding. That mentality and that fight for each other is a bigger defining point than people give it credit for.”
by Ben Coles