ENGLAND’S new interim head coach Stuart Lancaster last night vowed to crack down on the cultural and disciplinary problems which contributed to a disastrous World Cup campaign.
Lancaster, an ex-school teacher, has joined forces with Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell to form a temporary management team that will lead England into the 2012 Six Nations.
The Rugby Football Union currently have a five-man panel, led by Rob Andrew, hunting for the permanent successor to Martin Johnson, who stood down after England’s quarter-final exit at the World Cup.
Leaked reports into England’s failed campaign painted the picture of a dysfunctional squad, riven by a lack of trust with some players motivated more by money than rugby.
Hooker Steve Thompson was critical of the culture of expectation, saying: “Some of the lads get everything given to them before they have done anything.”
But Lancaster vowed all that would change on his watch as he outlined plans to build a new environment and blood England’s exciting young players.
“Environment shapes behaviour,” said Lancaster, who spent two weeks on a watching brief with England at the World Cup.
“For the first 20 years of my life I came from a small farm in Cumbria where you have to graft and work hard.
“I spent the second 20 years in Yorkshire, where you get ‘nowt for owt’. There’ll be no airs or graces in this camp or this team.
“I’m a schoolteacher from my old background. A group of pupils can go through five different lessons in a day and behave differently in every lesson because of the standards of the teacher and the values they set.
“Little things to me are important. Things like being on time and being courteous at all times. We have to get back to the sense where we are all in it together. It serves no purpose to blame and counter blame.
“If we give a strong enough reason to the players about why it’s important to be responsible and be respectful of the rose and what the rose represents then everything falls into line behind that.
“I’m confident in our ability to create the right environment and the right vision that they’ll come motivated and desperate to get back on the field to represent England and improve on where we finished the World Cup.”
Lancaster will place the emphasis firmly on youth when he names his 32-man elite squad on January 11, which will help his plan to create a new environment within the England squad.
That could mean the end for elder statesmen like Mike Tindall and Jonny Wilkinson – but an exciting future for players like Chris Robshaw, who has captained Harlequins to 14 straight wins this season.
“We have got a fantastic group of young players coming through. We have an opportunity to look at them and see how they get on on the international stage and I don’t think we should shy away from that,” said Lancaster, who worked with the likes of Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs at Saxons level.
“There will be an emphasis on youth but we won’t strip out all the experience. We want players who are hungry and ambitious, who want to go on and beat the best and be the best.
“If the players don’t tick the character and talent box then they won’t get picked.
“We want players who have pride in the shirt. What we need to do is to make sure they recognise that and buy into that.
“We recognise the responsibility to get that team right, get the culture right, and get back on the right track.
Rowntree is the only member of England’s senior World Cup management team to be retained and he will take charge of the forwards.
Farrell, who worked with Lancaster in the Saxons in 2010, has been seconded from Saracens and will oversee the backs and defence.
“If I had to pick a coaching team, this would be it,” said Lancaster.
There is no place in the interim England set-up for defence coach Mike Ford or forwards coach John Wells, who had both worked with the national team since 2006 and are now engaged in talks with the RFU.
Lancaster captained Leeds in the 1990s before taking charge of the club’s academy scheme and then becoming director of rugby in 2006, a position he held for two years.
After overseeing a promotion and a relegation campaign, Lancaster joined the RFU where he has held a dual role as England Saxons coach and the head of elite player development.
“There is a sense of responsibility and a huge honour that we have to represent the England team. It’s something as a player I always dreamed of and something as a coach I never dreamed of,” Lancaster said.
“To get the opportunity to sit here as the England head coach is an unbelievable opportunity and I’m very privileged to be here.”