- Lancaster reflects on summer objectives exclusively with RFUtv
- Clear communication and relationship with clubs key to autumn success
As England move inexorably towards the next juncture on the road to Rugby World Cup 2015, Stuart Lancaster can look back with satisfaction on a summer campaign which met his three objectives.
Those aims are represented by the three distinct groups of players he will seek to reform into an England unit – starting at the three-day mini-camp in Loughborough in early August – ahead of three Test matches this autumn.
Lancaster’s new 33-man Elite Player Squad includes 12 who were part of a gloriously successful Lions tour – four who were given the summer off to recuperate, and the remainder who dismissed a weakened Argentina by an aggregate of 83-29 in two Tests this summer.
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Reflecting on what has been achieved, Lancaster said: “The summer was great for us in lots of ways. I was delighted with the players who went with the Lions and the contribution they made, we rested some key players, and the whole purpose of Argentina was to win both Tests but also to develop more talent.
“And I think the selection has reflected that tour and the players who we felt excelled for us.”
Six new faces – Dave Attwood, Kyle Eastmond, Matt Kvesic, Billy Vunipola, Christian Wade and Marland Yarde – are promoted to the elite set-up and Lancaster expects them all to “push for Test spots in November” on the back of invigorated starts to the Aviva Premiership season.
But how does he forge these groups into a cohesive and organised squad after their differing summers? Former England Head Coach Clive Woodward is on record as saying it took his side between 12 and 18 months to get over the physical and, particularly, mental demands of the 2001 Lions tour.
For Lancaster, the answer lies in direct and clear communication and the solid relationships he has worked so hard to covet with the Aviva Premiership clubs, given that there are eight rounds of domestic action before England meet again to prepare for Australia at Twickenham on November 2.
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“The camp we’ve got lined up in Loughborough in August is key, the Lions players will only have just come back in so they’ll make a smaller contribution,” he said. “But needless to say, they’ll all be in and I’ll be speaking to all of them individually about their experiences and what they’ve learnt.
“Getting over the Lions tour is all down to rest, rotation and recovery, and rugby has moved on a lot in terms of professionalism in the last four years. I think the squads are bigger, the clubs are better prepared to rest and rotate players and they know in their own minds that the guys on Lions tour have had a tough few months and need a good break.
“I trust the clubs 100 per cent to be able to manage the players and will do it in the best interests of the clubs but also in the best interests of England as well. We’ve got a long season ahead of us, culminating in a three-Test tour to New Zealand, so we’ve got to get it right.”
The immediate challenge takes the form of intriguing Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand on consecutive Saturdays this autumn. Lancaster will head out to watch two games in The Rugby Championship to see first-hand what England are up against and succinctly summed up the subplots to the three games.
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He added: “After the Lions win, Australia have a new coach, Argentina will be wanting to put the record straight from our tour and the last time we played New Zealand was at Twickenham.”
Lancaster’s expression tells more about his anticipation ahead of the clash with the All Blacks, the first meeting with the world champions since England handed out a 38-21 beating last December, a record margin of victory over the visitors.
Enduring greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have never before suffered such a heavy defeat during their gleaming Test careers and will be hell-bent on setting the record straight. Lancaster’s broad grin suggests he cannot wait for the chance to defy them again.