After England's memorable victory over France in Paris, Howard Johnson
believes Stuart Lancaster would make a great permanent Head Coach. And not
least because he's a lucky bugger!
Howard Johnson knows that England Interim Coach Stuart Lancaster has had
luck on his side in the Six Nations. But he's also shown all the qualities that
make for a great international coach and so deserves the job full time
So there's only one question worth the asking after England's heart-thumping
Six Nations victory on the foreign field of the Stade de France at the weekend.
Would it now be both bloody-minded and bloody stupid of the RFU not to hand
the full time Head Coach's job to Stuart Lancaster, the unassuming and highly
personable interim boss who's masterminded three away wins – the first time
an England side has achieved such a feat since the Six Nations tournament
began – and an oh-so-narrow home defeat to the tournament's likely victors
Lancaster's impressive competition record so far has been built on the back of
a set of principles that has primarily bestowed enormous trust in a young and
inexperienced group of players, players who have almost to a man proved they
have the necessary X-factor to enjoy long and, dare we say, distinguished
careers in international rugby. There's been a bravery in Lancaster's selections
that has appealed to the romantic in all of us. Which doesn't negate the fact
that many of us same folk who are now hailing his innovative choices would
have been questioning his sanity had England been on the wrong side of the
score in the three games – against Scotland, Italy and France – that have
yielded such memorable wins.
Top level sport swings on the tiniest of margins and nowhere is that more clear
than in England's 2012 Six Nations journey. Far be it from me to be a killjoy.
There's no-one more pleased than I am about the unfolding of England's
fairytale. But let's be honest, had Scotland been able to make the simplest of
passes with the posts at their absolute mercy, had Italy had a substitute goal
kicker worthy of the name, and had France not swapped Lionel Beauxis for
François Trinh-Duc for the final minutes of the game, then it's entirely possible
that England could have been looking at four out of four in the 'Games Lost'
column. That wouldn't have changed the essential shape of England's matches.
They would have still performed with guts, drive, desire, passion, skill,
inventiveness and ability. But under those circumstances it would have been
absolutely impossible to imagine the Union giving Lancaster the post on a full-
time basis. What can we conclude from this? Well above all, that Stuart
Lancaster isn't just a good coach. He's also a lucky coach. And if you had to
make your choices between the two you'd go for lucky every time, wouldn't
I don't buy the apocalyptic vision that plenty of journalists are trying to peddle
right now. That the England camp was a miserable place pre-Lancaster, full of
money-grabbing cynics and misbehaving miscreants, led by a coaching team
that knew little, but scowled lots. That's bullshit. I was there and it wasn't like
that at all. That it was time to make changes at the end of 2011 is abundantly
clear. But where's the surprise in that? There isn't a team in international
rugby that doesn't get the brush out for a good sweep after a World Cup
competition. It's a natural break point, a time to shepherd out the old guard
and usher in the new young bucks. So Lancaster has brought his own style, his
own vision and his own players and he's been absolutely right to do so. In
doing so he's shown that he has the temperament required of big-time rugby
coaches. And like I said, he's shown he's got luck on his side. For now.
Personally I'd love to see him get the job. First, because he's proved he
deserves a shot. Second, because he's English. And I think we've seen in
English football that you need a more-than-exceptional foreign coach if Xenophobia isn't going to creep into proceedings at some point.
And thirdly, because as I said, he's lucky. Luck, of course, has a nasty habit of running out on you. And should Lancaster be awarded the post full time he'll no doubt find that out for himself. But he certainly seems like the kind of guy who's capable of dealing with adversity with a sure-footed calm that is both becoming of the man and hugely admirable. Lancaster doesn't look like a chap who cheats
himself or others. In a world of professional sport – yes, even rugby – where
the pressures to be devious and Machiavellian in the pursuit of those all-
important results are often unbearable – Lancaster seems to be an impervious
island of calm and (hope I'm not proved wrong here) integrity. And whatever
you might say about luck, he's also a man who's managed to mastermind
three lovely jubbly English tries in the Stade de France. For an Englishman
living in France that's pure gold. And for that reason alone I'd love to see
Stuart Lancaster leading England ongoing with that same adorable mix of
pride, belief and humility that we've seen every step of the way so far.