- Graham Rowntree’s RBS 6 Nations review part one
- Forwards coach discusses impact of Interim Head Coach and moulding his pack
Graham Rowntree sat down with RFUtv to discuss England’s 2012 RBS 6 Nations campaign and delivered a stirring testimony to the impact of Interim Head Coach Stuart Lancaster.
To underpin exceeding expectations on the pitch – recording three away wins for the first time and a crushing 30-9 defeat of Ireland at Twickenham – the Forwards Coach believes it was achieved in the best atmosphere he’s experienced in rugby.
As an England and Leicester Tigers stalwart and a major part of the famed British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2009, that is not statement Rowntree would make lightly, but the 57-Test cap loosehead provides a simple explanation.
In previous years after long and arduous tournaments Rowntree was ready for home and the relative comfort of club environments but this time he says the post-tournament celebrations were tinged with sadness.
“By the end of any competition period or tour everyone is generally knackered and ready to go home, mentally as much as anything,” said the 40-year-old.
“But to produce what I regard as our best performance and best score line at the end of the series on a six day turnaround – that came on the back of a great team culture, they wanted to do better and did whatever it took to win that last game.
“Having an environment that produces that is special and, genuinely, by the end of it on Saturday night, people really didn’t want to go home and wanted to do it again the next day – I’d love to be coaching them again this week.”
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Rowntree says this without a hint of self-interest and it carries weight considering his close ties to the old regime of former Leicester and England teammate and most-recent permanent England Team Manager Martin Johnson.
And he continued to give examples of why Lancaster deserves the credit for driving the humility and selflessness in that culture, suggesting the small things make a difference when firing the emotions in a squad.
“Stuart’s driven a lot of the changes and always has something up his sleeve,” he said. “Going to Leeds as a different training venue; reconnecting with the grassroots of the game; and getting the lads’ parents and people who have been influential in their careers to write a message to them and put it in a plaque – when the guys received that they were in tears.
“Even when we departed Sunday morning we had a big debrief and he got all the families and kids in the room to show them some videos of us.
“All the families watched these videos with mouths open and doing that is special. The last, parting gift to the lads was a signed shirt with their name embroided on it. They’re special little things to remember, and I’m sure the players are dying to come back in.”
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The performance of England’s pack was a major success story of the tournament, with a succession of strong performances culminating in the demolition of an Ireland eight boasting three Lions.
Considering their relative inexperience – England’s pack totalled just 132 caps to Ireland’s 306 last Saturday – Rowntree believes there are a number of factors which have aided their rapid progress.
And enjoying the analogy with moulding a Lions pack in 2009 and providing specific examples of the players driving standards, Rowntree added: “Fortunately in developing a new pack I’ve been lucky I’ve had a front row who’ve played together before, albeit not much and albeit being young players.
“And having the elder statesmen to have around – Tom Palmer and Phil Dowson. Dows is like having another coach, he comes to me with ideas and I go to him to seek advice. He has a very steadying influence on the group, he’s disappointed not to have had more game time but he’s been a massive influence.
“A lot of this is tinged with frustration for me because I’d like to work with them again this week, but they’re going back to their clubs and leaving me on my own.
“There are some glaring areas of weakness in our game but a lot of that will be cured by spending more time together. I’m looking forward, hopefully, to continuing to work with that group as I see a lot more development in them.”