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Austin Healey: Lancaster lacks the ego to succeed as England boss

| 05.10.2015

So with a crushing defeat to Australia at Twickenham, England bow out of their home World Cup without getting beyond the group stages and the post-mortem over Saturday night’s performance is well underway.

We need to look deeper than that however, as it didn’t just all go wrong on Saturday and it’s clear now that there have been issues within the squad and the set-up for some time.

Very few prominent people, if any, came out and said Stuart Lancaster and co. had got it wrong before the tournament. A few people might have thought it but no-one really came out and said it.

One person who did let their feelings known was Will Carling and he was criticised for it quite heavily.

I’ve said a few things in recent weeks and have been critical along the way but because I wanted to get behind the team and wanted to see England do well I bit my tongue a little bit and I think a few others did too.

Lancaster may not be the man to take this England side forward

The tournament is over for England now though and we need to start looking to the future and I’m afraid I think that needs to be a future without Lancaster in his current role if England are going to develop and improve.

Stuart is a top bloke, a nice guy and he has created a culture where everyone wants to play for each other.

Unfortunately he’s also created a very safe culture, with little edge. No one is playing outside their comfort zone or producing more than is required of them. It’s all very safe and friendly and warm.

You could argue that he’s a nice guy but perhaps he’s too nice to do the job that’s required. He doesn’t have a big enough ego to lead England. He’s such a good bloke that occasionally he doesn’t take full control with the on pitch activities. He lacks the mean streak and the ego required to succeed with England, unless you are talking about creating a clean good boy culture.

What I think the squad needs is someone with a bit more attitude and a chance to create a stronger squad. The argument about the foreign-based players is not a Lancaster issue but it would be good to try and open that back up if it broadens the ability for England to win.

I think Lancaster will be given an ultimatum: continue with a shake-up of the backroom staff or go.

People are also pointing to Sir Clive Woodward’s spell and saying four years isn’t long enough to build a World Cup team and that you need six years or seven if you look at Graham Henry’s tenure – that’s rubbish.

Look at Michael Cheika, he’s turned Australia around in less than a year and they play with flair and ingenuity and power into the scrum.

Losing in the scrum on Saturday was almost as big a disaster as going out. That’s never happened before and it was embarrassing.

I admire the sensibility of those saying let’s not have a knee-jerk reaction but the issue is a lot of people have felt like this for a long time so it won’t really be a hasty decision if they do make changes.

We need to have a proper review and come up with a plan and not just for Japan in four years but for the Six Nations and Autumn internationals too. You can’t just plan for four years’ time as the same thing could just happen again.

I’d quite like to see England, with whoever is in charge going forward, win the Six Nations and let the manager get his win ratio up before worrying about the World Cup in four years. Those wins will build experience and give us a better chance next time.

England set-up has been too focused on discipline

After what happened in 2011 when the team was vilified for going on one night out and walking past a dwarf throwing bar – they didn’t even go in – it was decided that change was needed.

There seemed to be this clamour for good behaviour and role models at all costs. If you look at Martin Johnson’s record though it stacks up to Lancaster’s – especially at World Cups!!

When Lancaster came in he was charged with stopping that sort of stuff going on and staying only on the back pages of the papers. He achieved that but he did it so well it became what appears to be the primary mantra at the expense of developing the team and keeping the players on edge

Too many players have retained their place in the squad and team even through poor form because they are part of the squad and a safe bet.

Winning is the only thing that matters for England. If you’re a national coach you are judged on winning games and winning big games. Beating Italy away and Scotland at home is not good enough, you need to beat the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Wales and get to quarters, semis and hopefully finals.

That’s what you are judged on. You are not judged on how well behaved the squad are or whether or not you’ve got a team of role models.

It’s a waste of time. You have to empower these players to be themselves and show some creativity.

You hear stories of Stephen Larkham coming out to training sessions with AC/DC blaring out of the stadium and that relaxed atmosphere seems to be working for the Aussies.

Things are clearly different in other camps and it’s all too serious, restricted and intense in the England set-up.

There is a place for discipline and intensity but England didn’t try anything different and thought they could just power their way to victory and that just isn’t going to happen – especially at a World Cup.

Andy Farrell may be an influential voice but he’s what Lancaster wanted

There’s been a lot of talk about Andy Farrell having too much influence on team selection but until someone comes out and says that on the record it’s just conjecture and only those guys on the inside know.

Lancaster wanted a strong character in that role and that’s what he got with Farrell so there can be few complaints from him.

Whoever was making these decisions though has some questions to answer as some just didn’t make sense.

A good example is Nick Easter. I love Nick in the Premiership but he’s 37 now and doesn’t have the impact he had four or five years ago.  He’s a very clever, very experienced but very safe option. Why select him over someone like Dave Ewers who can take everything you can throw at him physically and still make ground?

That’s just one selection to look at though. Why would you pick Sam Burgess and then play him alongside Brad Barritt who he is there to replace? Why have Jack Nowell in the squad with his pace, energy and work rate and then not use him?

If Lancaster goes the new manager must focus on development

Mike Ford is being touted as a potential replacement should Stuart leave and he would certainly bring an exciting style of play to the table.

He would need some help to manage the players though and to be honest he probably doesn’t want to leave Bath.  Whoever comes in though it needs to be someone who can develop the side a bit quicker than we are seeing at present.

There has been talk of Sir Clive Woodward returning but I’m not convinced that’s the best plan.

Could he do the job? Yes, but his greatest skill was always the ability bring people better than him in to manage different sections.

He’s a manger who sets an ideology and can let others get to work. He does very little coaching so he would need some world class coaches underneath him to ensure some creativity and excitement.

This would not be a knee jerk reaction, like many you could see it coming! But because of the support you want to give, you try to gloss over it and wish it away. Unfortunately English rugby, despite its size, is in real trouble and it’s time to fix it.

England fans should stay tuned and get behind the home nations

While the tournament is effectively dead for England fans there’s still plenty of exciting rugby to come and I would urge them to back all the other home nations and stay tuned to see who can go furthest.

It’s been really exciting in the group stages because the tier two and three teams are playing very well and we’re not seeing the 100-point wins we’ve seen in previous tournaments.

I said before the tournament that Ireland were a solid bet among the home nations and it definitely looks that way so far.

I’ll be supporting them, then Scotland then Wales if I have to. Ireland haven’t played amazingly well but they’ve showed, especially against Italy, that winning games is all that required

Australia also look very good and if they beat Wales they’ll probably play Ireland in the semis and that is one game I’d definitely buy a ticket for.

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Austin Healey

As a former England and British Lions star with experience playing in both the World Cup and Six Nations tournaments few people are better placed to pass comment on international rugby union. Read Austin's thoughts on the 2015 World Cup exclusively at Ladbrokes News.