This international window has been disappointing for England what ever the result this weekend against Australia. The long term contracts given to Lancaster and his coaching squad were supposed to provide stability and give them confidence to continue their plan. Unfortunately all we seem to have seen is muddled thinking and I’m going to take you through the three areas where I feel Lancaster is losing the plot.
There is consensus that international management is mainly about selection. I don’t really care if a manager selects the best players and devises the game plan for them or chooses the game plan and then selects the players to fit it. So my issues with Lancaster at the moment are purely on how he has gone about selection not the particular players chosen.
Judgement of players
People always talk about the captain but he invariable talks about the leadership group within a team. The problem during the first two games was that these were the very players letting the team down.
Dylan Hartley got carded again, this time it was very poor. Tapping the player before stepping on him meant there was no excuse about not knowing the player was there. I have heard commentators suggest that Hartley is the type of player that could lose the world cup for England with this kind of act.
The decision making and kicking of Farrell and Care was poor. I remember Care box kicking when both wingers were in the ruck meaning that there was no chase. A kick is only as good as the chase, well one that stays in play anyway. There were also times Care was forced into kicking as Farrell wasn’t available either due to poor positioning or being in the ruck.
It’s not been the new or inexperienced players that have let England down and that’s a major worry and question mark around Lancaster’s judgement of players. It’s true the manager can not play the game but he has chosen the players to play for him.
Continuity of Selection
During the 6 nations last year Lancaster picked the same back division for every game. Players staying fit clearly helped but to Lancaster’s credit he also picked his players and stuck with them. This led to England carrying more meters, more clean breaks and more defenders beaten than the other sides.
Clearly there have been extenuating circumstances during the summer, but that doesn’t explain how those players have been treated differently during this international window. Let’s have a look at the 6 nations back division and how they have been treated:
9 Care – Playing and selected
10 Farrell – Not playing and selected
11 May – Playing and selected
12 Twelvetrees – Playing out of form and not selected
13 Burrell – Injured but became available and not selected
14 Nowell – Playing and not selected
15 Brown – Playing and selected
So Farrell who has not been playing and has no form gets picked. Twelvetrees who is playing but not at his best but in a new squad and with a new coach isn’t picked. This inconsistency in treatment of players is what leads to the accusations nepotism and favouritism.
For me it’s been disappointing that he hasn’t tried to get this back division back together as much as possible. But once he had decided that wasn’t what he was going to do then he needed to give players a chance. For example Rokoduguni only getting one game has been harsh in the extreme, I understand that he got injured for the next match but he has been playing for Bath since. It has been similar for Eastmond who has not been given a run of games to establish himself.
One of the problems that Lancaster faces is that when he changes players it’s not like for like. Twelvetrees and Eastmond for example are different in stature and playing style. This means changing players also changes the team. This is not a problem that the All Blacks have for example, when they change players the team can still play the same way. Lancaster has had three years to develop this but either hasn’t been able to or the players aren’t available, it just makes continuity even more important.
Just as a side note Scotland are developing the ability to keep the team playing style the same, as they are building up some backup players who are similar to the first choice ones.
Playing people out of position
Initially I thought that this was a new issue that Lancaster has been having. However reading a good post on Lancaster’s selections, reminded me that he has tried Lawes at 6 earlier in his England career.
Centres are a problem area for England but I don’t understand Lancaster’s reluctance to pick anyone that plays at outside centre. Then to move Farrell from flyhalf to inside centre was always going to be a big ask for someone clearly out of form who has not had enough game time.
During the summer to pick Tualangi at wing was a bizarre selection. People had been suggesting he should move from outside centre to inside centre to see the ball more, not the other way round.
Currently I’m unconvinced by Lancaster’s selections due to questionable judgment of players leadership ability, his lack of consistency and continuity and him asking players to play out of position. After three years running the show, we shouldn’t be seeing these issues. The guys on the Egg Chasers podcast made a good point last week, Lancaster is a good coach, but is he a top international coach. To put it another way is he one of the top 3 coaches in the world?