Sunday 17 December 2017

Leinster assistant coach Stuart Lancaster responds to scathing Rob Andrew criticism

Publication of scathing Rob Andrew extract brings back World Cup nightmare

Stuart Lancaster wants to focus on the present rather than the past. Photo: Sportsfile
Stuart Lancaster wants to focus on the present rather than the past. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It is unlikely that memories of the 2015 World Cup are ever far from Stuart Lancaster's mind, but the publication of extracts from Rob Andrew's soon-to-be-published autobiography in an English newspaper yesterday brought the issue back front and centre.

Scheduled for his regular media duties at Leinster's headquarters in UCD yesterday, the former England coach fronted up to the scathing criticism from his former colleague who accused him of "losing the plot" during the calamitous tournament.

Apparently, accepting no responsibility for his own role as professional rugby director at England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) before and after the tournament, Andrew lays the blame for the pool exit firmly at Lancaster's door - describing Leinster's senior coach as "obsessive" and "dictatorial" in his handling of Sam Burgess in particular.

He accuses Lancaster of "taking his eye off the ball" in a withering assessment of the former head coach's performance.

Lancaster has steadily rebuilt his reputation since joining Leinster a year ago, but the tournament remains a stain on his resumé.

Yesterday, he was asked if he had a response.

Stuart Lancaster with Rob Andrew during the Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham in 2013. Photo: Getty
Stuart Lancaster with Rob Andrew during the Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham in 2013. Photo: Getty

"No, not really," he replied. "Everybody's entitled to an opinion, Rob has given his and that's his right I guess.

"You learn a lot about yourself as a national team coach and you learn a lot about other people as well. We'll leave it at that."

Significant

Perhaps this is just something Lancaster will have to get used to given his squad are likely to publish books and the chapter will always be a significant one in the English rugby story.

However, it seems he was caught off guard by the source of the stinging criticism.

"I have to say I didn't see this coming, I wasn't aware that anything was being written," he said.

"But I guess it's part and parcel of being a national coach, you know, when you take the responsibility you're accountable when it doesn't go well.

"I think I did that from the start and I will still continue to do that.

"It's not for me to comment on whether it's the wrong thing to do. I was certainly unaware it was coming up, but people are motivated in different ways."

Lancaster assumed full responsibility for England's harrowing exit at their home World Cup, resigning in the aftermath of the tournament.

But he has largely chosen to keep his counsel and when the specific criticism of the controversial decision to pick Burgess was put to him yesterday, he opted to rise above.

One day, he might put his own thoughts to paper but for now he is looking to apply the lessons he learnt at Leinster.

"I'm not going to go there, I've got my thoughts and I'll keep them to myself for the time being," he said.

"What I want to try and do is pass on what I've learnt as a coach to other coaches, to teachers, to people in leadership positions and also more importantly to people in Ireland and to Leinster.

"I don't think it will do anyone any good by going back all over that now.

"I think coaching England, I coached over 50 international games which I think puts me second most or around there - Sir Clive Woodward has obviously got the most experience.

"So, it does give you a lot of experience. You go through good times, you have great wins and great moments.

"You go through tough times as well, you learn a lot about yourself and other people as well.

"The down-time in between coaching England and coming to Leinster allows me to go and visit other environments, to visit other international coaches who have been through the sort of experiences that I've been through and learnt from them.

"You package all of that together and you bring it to Leinster.

"So I probably underestimated the development that I went through, not just coaching England but all of those years preceding that as well.

"I was involved at all levels of the game from being a teacher, right through to being a national coach."

Certainly, the Leinster players have been steadfast in their support of the coach who has been a popular addition to the back-room team.

Much of the progress made last season was attributed to the Englishman who arrived during the early part of last season after Kurt McQuilkin had unexpectedly returned to New Zealand.

"He's had a huge positive influence on the club. He's brought in the ethos of just playing what you see. I think our forwards have upped their skill level since he's come in," Devin Toner said.

This weekend, Lancaster comes face to face with a coach who offered him support when he was at his lowest ebb after the World Cup.

He revealed how former Scotland coach Vern Cotter, now in charge of Montpellier, reached out to him in the days after the tournament finished.

"I know him pretty well, he was very, very good with me after the World Cup," Lancaster said.

"He came and spoke briefly and we all understand the tightrope we walk as coaches in that position.

"He was one of those coaches who reached out, he's a very humble man. He's very hard-working, from farming stock in New Zealand and I thought he did a brilliant job with Scotland.

"He did really well, what he did was reconnect the country and its identity while making them very, very competitive.

"So, to go then to a club with the resources of Montpellier makes them a better club than they were last year.

"You lay on (Aaron) Cruden, (Ruan) Pienaar and (Louis) Picamoles in the axis positions and you've got a powerful combination."

The arrival of the star-studded Top 14 high-fliers in Dublin on Saturday was, of course, the main reason that Lancaster was up for interview yesterday and he is relishing another tilt at the tournament after the Blues reached the semi-final last season.

"My expectations were high last year and I think the expectations should be there for the Irish teams because I think there are four quality teams," he said.

"If you look at the players who play, I don't see any reason why the Irish teams can't be competitive right at the top of the European table and I think it will be a fantastic benchmark this weekend and next weekend to see where we're all at."

Silverware would help with the continuing rehabilitation of his damaged reputation, but he insists that the motivation has little to do with his previous job.

"Every coach's aim is to deliver trophies to the team and my aim is not motivated by proving people wrong or trying to change people's perceptions," he said.

"It's trying to do the right thing on a daily basis, trying to do the right thing for Leinster, trying to improve the players, to improve the environment.

"I don't think my motivation is any different to any other coach."

Irish Independent

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