Friday 23 February 2018

Coach realises English empire can't be built in day as Rome test looms

Mick Cleary

As England packed their bags yesterday afternoon to board a private charter flight to Rome, they travelled with a warning from head coach Stuart Lancaster about the continued need for discipline.

The unchanged squad could certainly muse on the fact that they were headed in the right direction for lessons on laying firm foundations and the building of empires.

No, it won't happen in a day. Lancaster is well aware of that maxim and, appropriately enough, has kept faith in those who served England well in beating Scotland 13-6 at Murrayfield last week.

Lancaster will sense that tomorrow's match against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico is an even tougher assignment than the one in Edinburgh. One of the factors underpinning England's victory was the marked improvement in discipline. England gave away only nine penalties at Murrayfield, Lancaster himself pointing out that they would have lost if they had conceded four or five more as had been their wont during the World Cup when they gave away 51 in four pool games.

Lancaster said that this had been the cornerstone of his approach, making players aware of their responsibilities to each other and to the cause. In that sense, having a settled side helps enormously. This is only the eighth time in 12 seasons of Six Nations rugby that England have fielded an unchanged starting XV, and something they have not managed to do, or felt inclined to do, for two years.

"We've had a deliberate focus on discipline," said Lancaster, who received a good luck text from his predecessor Martin Johnson last week.

"We've been hammering the need for self-control into the players since our training camp in Leeds. We've made it absolutely clear that unnecessary penalties will not be tolerated For me, that was biggest plus from last week."

There are many parts of England's game that are in need of either overhaul or fine-tuning. Lancaster did not attempt to deny the fact that England's attacking game was fractured at Murrayfield. The head coach thought "long and hard" about making changes, with No 8 Ben Morgan in particular pushing hard for a starting slot.

"It gives us a chance now to gel and work together," said Lancaster, who saw seven players go up to receive their ceremonial first cap at the post-match dinner in Edinburgh last week.

Wing Chris Ashton, who scored four tries in a 59-13 win over Italy at Twickenham last season, sounded a warning as to the danger that awaits at the Stadio Olimpico.

"This is the week we could get caught out," he said. Quite so. Three injured England players -- Toby Flood, Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes -- are all expected to turn out for their clubs this weekend.


They will have to tune in to a remodelled, better disciplined England when they do return.

Meanwhile, the Wales head coach Warren Gatland has spent much of the past few months either fielding teams seriously weakened by the absence of injured front-line personnel or losing the services of brilliant operators in the opening few minutes of major Test matches.

Fortunes changed yesterday when Gatland was able to announce -- ahead of schedule -- the return of two influential forwards for this weekend's Six Nations contest against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium.

Gethin Jenkins will be back in the front-row after recovering from a wrenched knee suffered on Heineken Cup duty with Cardiff Blues last month. Similarly, the highly-regarded Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate has shaken off an ankle problem. Sam Warburton, who lasted only 50pc of last weekend's compelling victory in Ireland before giving best to a leg injury, is fit to resume too. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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