England Rugby Team Coach Denies Contact

Stuart Lancaster, the head coach of the England Rugby Team has denied that he has been in contact with Andy Farrell over a possible reunion with the England coaching set up.

It was announced on Friday morning, the 1st of June by the Saracens that Farrell had resigned from his post as the head coach of the Aviva Premiership side and almost immediately, it was being speculated that he will join the coaching staff of the England national team with Stuart Lancaster.

The 37 year old former international for England in both the Rugby Union and Rugby League was a part of the coaching team with Lancaster at the RBS Six Nations Championships earlier in the season but decided against continuing in his post and returned to the Saracens after the end of the tournament.

Lancaster was hopeful that he would be able to retain the services of Farrell for the England Rugby Team after the tournament as well and was very disappointed when he returned to the Saracens due to a disagreement over the contractual details which led the Rugby Football Union to turn to Mike Catt for the tour of South Africa where the team will plays three tests and a five match series.

The team is already in South Africa for the tour and speaking at a press conference, Lancaster made it quite clear that he had not made any contact with Farrell and played down suggestions that the former star of the team could play any part in the coaching setup any time in the near future.

But that hasn’t stopped the speculations from gathering fuel, after it was revealed that Lancaster had confided to his close friends that he would love a reunion with his former assistant with the England Rugby Team in the near future.

ENGLISH RUGBY STRUGGLING

English club rugby had been one of the major forces in the European scene over the last few years with clubs from the country vying for the title in two of Europe’s elite club competitions, but not any more.

With the defeat of the Saracens FC at the hands of Clermont over the weekend, England, for the first time, has been left without a representative I either of the two top European club competitions.

After all the three clubs that were representing England in the Amlin Cup, the rugby equivalent of the UEFA Europa League in football crashed out, it was up to the Saracens to carry the flag of the country in the Heineken Cup.

But it seems that the burden of expectations proved to be too much for the champions of the Aviva Premiership and crumbled under the pressure, surrendering meekly to the French opponents on home soil. The match was all but over inside the first hour of play and this has prompted widespread criticism from all sections of the fans and some of the officials as well.

According to the officials, English rugby will not be able to compete with the European heavyweights if the salary cap is not increased. According to Mark McCall, the Director of Rugby of the Saracens, the salary cap in England is exactly half as that in France and this allows the French to get the best players in the world by breaking the bank and unless the English teams are also allowed such benefits, they will not be able to compete as a force in Europe anymore.

McCall also stated that although they felt that they were ready for the challenge of Clermont, they actually weren’t and that was proved by the mauling suffered at the hands of the French side.

FOUR IN THE RUNNING

It is widely thought that there are only two candidates for the vacant England manager/head coach vacancy. It is generally thought that the next man to take to role on a full time basis will be either Stuart Lancaster or Nick Mallett.

Ian Ritchie, the RFU’s new Chief Executive has though revealed that there are two others in consideration for the job.

One of these further two is expected to be Sir Clive Woodward. It is easy to see why, he took England to new heights, winning the World Cup and Grand Slam in 2003 and building the team that would go on to reach a second consecutive final in 2007. His current role with the BOA is set to end after this year’s Olympics and this could be a chance for a return to the game that made him what he is.

The mention of Woodward’s name alone will be enough to destabilise the RFU and the thought of how split the organisation would become if he were to return is a major factor in the argument against his return. There is talk of Woodward returning in a management role to work alongside Lancaster as head coach. This again though seems unlikely though. With Lancaster having drawn up his plans for the next three years should he be appointed, and those plans do not include a place for a high profile manager such as Woodward.

The Mallett v Lancaster debate is also polarising opinions within the RFU and the game as a while. The two main arguments being that experience is necessary, which did not seem to be an issue in the appointment of Martin Johnson, this would if seen as relevant count in favour of Nick Mallet. Whereas the argument that the job should be filled by an Englishman, counting in favour of Lancaster, the current favourite according to the latest rugby odds.

Both of these arguments are in reality though irrelevant. Whichever man, whichever setup the RFU go for will have to be based solely on who is the right man for the job. Whether this be Lancaster, Mallett or even Woodward then so be it. Whoever it is will need to full unified backing of the RFU and the English nation.

WHITE INTERESTED IN ENGLAND ROLE

Former South Africa coach, Jake White has confirmed that he is in contention for the vacant England manager’s job.

He has told his current employers, ACT Brumbies, that the RFU has approached him and is considering him for the job.

Brumbies seems highly supportive of their man and are keen for him to take the choice which would benefit his career the most. They do how highlight in a statement that White is in the first year of a four year contract and should he be successful there would be “many details that would need to be worked through”.

This would suggest they would require significant compensation from the RFU if they want to take White on, an issue which would not be the case for the likes of Nick Mallet, Stuart Lancaster or Eddie O’Sullivan.

White initially ruled himself out of applying for the England job but his opinion seems to have changed. All along he has been open about his desire to become the first coach to win the World Cup twice and the opportunity to follow his South African success in 2007 with a campaign to build towards the tournament with England in 2015 may well have proved too alluring to him.

With the RFU announcing that the new manager will be in place before the end of the Six Nations interviews for the England job will take place in the next couple of weeks with Mallet, Lancaster and White expected to be the three men currently in consideration.

England’s performances in the European tournament (where they have the best Six Nations odds) mean that Lancaster is being considered seriously to retain the position.

Eddie O’Sullivan and John Kirwan were also interested in the job but failed to make the shortlist whilst former All Blacks assistant, Wayne Smith confirmed that he had not been interested in the top job. Smith though could well enter the England set up under the leadership of either White or Mallett.

ROBSHAW NAMED AS CAPTAIN

Harlequins’ captain Chris Robshaw has been named as England’s skipper for the forthcoming Six Nations opener against Scotland despite only having made one appearance for his nation’s team to date.

Robshaw’s lone cap came over two and a half years ago, but is tipped to play an integral role in the future of the England side following some impressive form for Harlequins so far this season.

Robshaw fought off competition from Dylan Hartley, Tom Croft and Tom Wood for the role, but when Wood picked up a toe injury the Quins man emerged as the favourite to take the role.

Whilst this is not a permanent appointment to the role it will provide Robshaw a chance to show his leadership credentials on the international stage and put his case forward for the role on a permanent basis. He will initially lead England in their first two games of the campaign, against Scotland and Italy before head coach, Lancaster makes a further decision to the role for the remainder of the tournament.

Robshaw has described his appointment as “a huge honour and a very proud day”. He has praised the large number of leaders within the England squad and is looking forward to `working alongside them to get the best out of this new look England side.

Lancaster is confident he has made the right decision, and punters seem to agree – the best Six Nations betting odds show that England remain favourites despite Robshaw’s lack of experience at the top level. Lancaster has been impressed by the way he has demonstrated with Harlequins and with the England Saxons how well he can “lead a team tactically and passionately.”

He also did not fail to agree with Robshaw on the importance of the “strong leadership group” within the England camp. The England squad is full of players who had the potential to be captains and it will no doubt be expected that they will all be there to support the new England captain in his new role.

HODGSON IS BACK

A revitalised Charlie Hodgson has today returned to the England starting line up after an absence of nearly four years.

The former Sale man, now at Saracens, has had a rollercoaster international career, but thus far he will be remembered mainly for the mistakes and poor performances that have kept him in the shadow of Wilkinson, Goode and Flood over the past few years.

2008 saw his last games for England, with missed tackles, memorably on Ma’a Nonu, poor kicking and open criticism from then coach, Rob Andrew, seeming to sum up a disappointing international career for Hodgson who many thought would now not get another chance at the top.

But Sale fans have known for years, and Saracens fans are now seeing just how good Hodgson actually is. As far as attacking goes there are fewer better players in recent English history. He single has taken some of the best defences in the world apart with his quick distribution and clever footwork. Any doubters need only watch the 2006 Premiership Final where Hodgson in the space of one game showed everything that is good about his play.

And his attacking prowess has not gone unnoticed by Stuart Lancaster. The interim coach wants to make England exciting to watch again and he feels that a player such as Hodgson at fly half can create a mindset and provide the ball for the backs to play some beautiful running Rugby that has been missing from the English game in recent years.

Hodgson has admitted there were times when he thought he was “never going to get picked” but stressed that his emphasis has always remained on “working hard and never losing faith in my ability”. His move to Saracens in the summer summed up his ambitions.

He could easily have stayed at Sale, playing in a safe environment at a club that was languishing at the wrong end of the table, with fans that idolised Hodgson. But he decided to give himself one last chance at the big time, he signed for the Champions, he put himself in the position to get this chance and now, against Scotland on Saturday, he has one last chance to be England’s man.

ENGLAND GO FOR YOUTH

Stuart Lancaster has announced his first squad as England head coach and it has a distinct youthful feel to it.

With Lewis Moody and Jonny Wilkinson both retiring from international duty gives chances to one or two players as do injuries to several key players but with no place in the squad for Mike Tindall, Nick Easter and Mark Cueto the suggestion is that Lancaster will be starting afresh and looking to the future during his tenure as coach, however short it may end up being.

The biggest name of any of the debutants is Owen Farrell, son of England coach and former Great Britain Rugby League star Andy, who has impressed so far this season at centre for Saracens. Other high profile debutants include Ben Morgan from the Scarlets and Northampton trio Calum Clark, Phil Dowson and Lee Dickson.

The squad’s captain is expected to be named in the next few weeks and the names which stand out as favourites for the role are back rowers, Tom Wood and Chris Robshawe. Wood has become an established member of England’s side over the last year whilst Robshawe has only won one cap so far, but has impressed in his leadership at Harlequins in their spectacular start to the domestic season.

Lancaster has gone on the record saying he wants “to use this Six Nations as an opportunity to develop the next players in those positions and develop a leadership group that is strong and wants to be the best”.

Lancaster is clearly looking beyond this spring’s tournament with the emphasis on building a squad that will be ready for the 2015 World Cup in England. He has knowledge of the youngsters from his role as Saxons Head Coach, and his involvement in player development at all levels.

This squad is packed with youth and may take a time to gel, but it is a much more forward thinking approach than any England have had since the days of Sir Clive Woodward and the 2003 World Cup win.

England kick-off the tournament against their Auld enemy, with the latest England Scotland rugby betting suggesting England will have a tough battle on their hands.

EASTER NOT TO BLAME

Conor O’Shea, the Director of Rugby at Aviva Premiership side Harlequin FC believes that interim England manager Stuart Lancaster will make a huge mistake if he drops Rugby World Cup winning No. 8 Nick Easter from the side that will travel to Scotland to face the mighty neighbors in their bid to retain the Six Nations Championship.

According to the reports that have been received, Lancaster is already said to have conveyed the message to the 33 year old that he is not a part of his plans for the future and he will not feature in the side that will take on Scotland at the Murray Field on the 4th of February, 2012 in the Calcutta Cup.

It seems extremely ironical for the player, who, less than a year back, was made the captain of the national team in their defeat at Ireland but with the coach looking at younger alternatives for the future, he might not as well get a chance to the 47 caps that he already has this season.

O’Shea said that he is happy to stick with his own player Nick Easter and according to him, he is one of those players who have consistently performed for the Aviva Premiership leaders with outstanding performances, leading them out of trouble on many occasions.

However, he further added that this call for Easter to be a part of the national team has nothing to do with his loyalty for the club but out of the belief that Lancaster must find the perfect balance between youth and experience.

However, he also added that Nick Easter is not the kind of a player who would give up if he is not picked in the team and believes that it will only make him perform well leaving Lancaster with no choice but to pick him in the future.

Lancaster Plays Hard Ball

Danny Care’s England career is not yet over. That is according to England’s interim head coach, Stuart Lancaster.

The Scrum half has been dropped by Lancaster after his arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour was followed by a further charge of drink-driving.

The two alcohol related incidents come as Lancaster has pledged to sort out the off field discipline which dominated an all round disappointing World Cup for the England team, who crashed in the Quarter Finals, costing plenty of fans of the rugby betting markets hundreds of pounds.

Lancaster’s interim period will be without Care, who he has worked with throughout his career at Leeds and throughout the England age groups.

Care has been on exceptional form so far this season, playing a key role in Harlequins more than impressive start to the season and he seemed a good bet for a place in the Six Nations squad, and most likely a starting place against Scotland next month. His off the field antics have now cost him a chance to impress and the chance to win up to five more caps for his country.

It is a hard line to off field scandal that seemed to be missing under Johnson’s era and could, perhaps should, mark the way English Rugby will be run for the foreseeable future. It is no surprise that the Welsh team that did so well at the tournament was seemingly invisible off the field, not getting drawn into any scandal whilst England were shocking both on and off the field.

Lancaster says he is not using Care as an example of a new hard line approach, but it will give the impression of doing just that. Care has been hit hard and it shows that under Lancaster at least this sort of behaviour won’t be tolerated.

It is a new era for England in many senses and it appears they are learning from the mistakes of the World Cup. The future must show they have learnt and Care’s punishment suggests they have done just that. If I were looking to stick a pound on the Rugby Union betting markets as to whether Care will play for England again, I would definitley stick it on him playing for England, possibly even before the year is out.