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FEATURE – Lancaster and England’s connected coaching system

28 November 2012

  • RFUtv feature on Stuart Lancaster heading up England's connected coaching system
  • Not hollow words from Head Coach who devotes time to aligning principles

“Most international coaches would focus only on winning the next game,” says Stuart Lancaster, as his first team forwards run line out drills on the Tuesday before England face world champions New Zealand.

“Obviously that is, first and foremost, the main priority for me but I’ve always believed in having a conveyer belt of talented coaches coming through so we can win in the short term but in the long term as well.”

Lancaster heads up a structure in English rugby that is dedicated to aligning coaching principles through the age-grade system and beyond, setting the tone that a connected structure is the most effective way to bring through the next generation of players who can perform at the highest level.

Take a snapshot of Lancaster’s diary during England’s training camp at St George’s Park in Burton and it is clear that these are not just hollow words from the England Head Coach.

His commitment to coaching, in the week prior to four consecutive Test weeks was evident from: a 40-minute talk to England’s Under 16 coaches; a two-hour Continuous Personal Development session for 250 local coaches; and attendance at a National Academy Managers meeting.

England Coaches Graham Rowntree (L) and Stuart Lancaster

Photo: Getty Images

For Lancaster, his history as a coach and graduation through the coaching system, directly impacts on this inclusive philosophy.

“I come from an environment at Leeds where I was an academy coach and it always made sense to me and the director of rugby, Phil Davies at the time, to make sure we were all on the same page,” he said.

“Most Premiership clubs will do that, where the principles you teach to your academy players are the same principles you teach to your fringe players and to your first team players. Obviously England is a slightly bigger animal in that regard in terms of the number of coaches and the number of teams but the principle remains the same, we should have standard principles that are driven from the top down.

“From Senior team, right through our age grades , all the way down to the bottom of the pyramid so in the future for England, we’ve got that consistency of coaching principles and pipeline of players coming through.”

John Fletcher is in charge of the development of England’s finest young players from Under 16 through to Under 19 in his role as Professional Player Development Manager.

The former Newcastle Falcons Academy Coach, who brought through Jonny Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Geoff Parling and Mat Tait, says the involvement of the people at the pinnacle of a coaching programme is both rare and highly valued.

RFU Professional Player Development Manager John Fletcher

Photo: Getty Images

“It’s pretty rare that for a guy at the top, the head coach, of a national programme in any sport in any country to be as involved as Stuart is,” he said.

“It’s important that we’re connected from the top right down to the bottom, and similarly from the bottom right back up to the top. We’re fortunate to have someone with that philosophy, and that rubs off on the other coaches too.

“It’s important that the guys involved in the county, divisional and regional academies and national programmes are aligned so that we give Stuart Lancaster the best possible opportunity to go and win games.”

Lancaster is fully aware that he is only as good as the players who are delivered to him in his Elite Player Squad, given the finite amount of time they spend together as a group.

And he believes the system is working, with last year’s England Under 20 graduates Joe Launchbury, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph all in his match day squad to face New Zealand.

He added: “You want the best coaches working with the youngest players, getting those good habits in them so when they come up they’re ready to go. And to be fair, we’ve got lads out here today who have just come out of the system at 21, and are ready to play international rugby.

“We’ve got national academy coaches like John Fletcher and Peter Walton working at the bottom end. They’re in here all the time working with us and watching the sessions, taking away the principles we’re working on and passing it down the food chain.”

For this top-down connected system to work, it needs an all-inclusive commitment to coaching from the man heading up the structure. And in Lancaster, England Rugby has that, when he’s not out coaching his West Park Leeds Under nines.