Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Lancaster Stops England Bombing

With just three months to go before rugby's greatest showpiece hits their home soil, England's players have begun to self destruct.
Monday morning's papers and social media heralded the second coming of  Danny Cipriani. With a 33 point haul and man of the match display against Barbarians in his long awaited shot in the England 10 jersey, the praise was warranted.
Former Wales fitness coach and Jonny Wilkinson mentor, Steve Black took to Twitter to tweet lyrical about the Sale flyhalf. Black stated that with Cipriani could lead England to glory, praising his ability and on field discipline, before stating "his behaviour day by day off the field has been exemplary. He has excellent habits & leads a very healthy professional lifestyle."
In less than 24 hours everything had turned sour. On Monday night news hit the England camp like a Courtney Lawes tackle; Cipriani had been arrested on suspicion of drink driving after his Mercedes collided with a Toyota in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully, all involved came through the incident unscathed. Cipriani's World Cup hopes may not be so lucky.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster would have felt like tearing his heavily cropped, ever greying hair out.  Just 18 days before the Cipriani incident, England centre Manu Tuilagi was suspended from international duty until 2016. The Samoan born centre was found guilty of assaulting two female police officers following a confrontation with a taxi driver. Even before his ban, the centre positions were a perceived weakness for Stuart Lancaster’s men. Now the coaches were staring into a six feet one inch, seventeen stone hole.
If the latest in Tuilagi’s many indiscretions wasn’t enough to infuriate his boss, Lancaster’s resolve would truly be tested by another serial offender. With 66 caps to his name, Dylan Hartley was England’s experience in a young squad. A player Lancaster would want to lead by example, both on the field and off it.
However, Hartley’s rushes of blood have become more well known than the player himself. An incident at the playoff semi finals may have been passed off as trivial were it not for the hooker’s previous misdemeanours. Hartley's subsequent suspension means he's been subjected to over a year of enforced time off for bad behaviour; with offences including biting, gouging and the verbal abuse of an official.
Like Tuilagi, Hartley found himself on the wrong side of Lancaster's wrath. Dropped from England's training squad and ironically - if not karmically - replaced by Jamie George, the man on the receiving end of Hartley's stray forehead.

However, regardless of your allegiances or nationality, it's difficult to feel anything but untold respect and admiration for Lancaster. While his charges continue to make poor judgement calls, the man from Penrith remains resolute and uncompromising. 
Four years ago, England crashed out of the World Cup early amid tales of midget throwing, inappropriate comments to female hotel staff, IRB fines and jumping from ferries. Martin Johnson would ultimately pay with his job.
Then, as now, the names Tuilagi and Hartley appeared continuously amid the fray. On the field Johnson was a terrifying figure for players that crossed his path as he stared out from under his furrowed brow. However, Lancaster is the coach that England's players should fear crossing. His actions have already proved that this time the coach will make no excuses for the actions of his players. 

From the time he took over the reins, Lancaster has been building a team and an ethos; a culture with which the team will operate. One which Lancaster fights to protect and which no player is bigger than; be they a midfield wrecking ball or an integral part of a well oiled set piece.
We will have to wait until August to find out whether Cipriani has committed any offences or was just the unlucky man in the wrong place, at the wrong time. However, four years on from England's disastrous World Cup campaign in New Zealand, Lancaster will make sure England don't make the same mistakes again. If England's players can't get on board, then heads will roll.
And with that attitude, Lancaster may just be able to lead them to glory.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll