Saturday 25 November 2017

Lancaster puts faith in English pride as his greenhorn side begins new era

Chris Hewett

If an England team with three new caps in the starting line-up and a quintet of rookies on the bench suffer a thumping at Murrayfield tomorrow, it will not be for the want of patriotic fervour.

All week, the coaching staff have been reminding the squad of their duty to the badge, the shirt and pretty much everything else in their kitbag.

"The new people picked for this game are members of a very, very exclusive club, and that carries some responsibility," said interim head coach Stuart Lancaster.

"Alongside it, there is the responsibility to everyone who has helped each player on his journey: the schoolteacher, the first junior coach, the academy manager, the director of rugby. It's not just about you when you play for England, it's about everyone around you.

"What does the shirt mean to me? You can see it in the power of the nation's support when they get behind a successful England team. We saw it in Euro '96, we've seen it after an Ashes victory, we saw it in 2003 when we won the Rugby World Cup.


"The spirit that binds the English nation together at times like that is probably the most powerful force there is. What we have to do is harness it by giving the public a team they can cheer."

Lancaster was not draped in a flag of St George, though -- partly, perhaps, because he has Scottish blood and played for that country's age-group teams.

"There are mixed feelings amongst some of my relatives," he admitted, "although my mum is slightly biased towards me."

When it comes to selection, the coach's own bias is towards in-form players blessed with the deep-rooted work ethic he so prizes. Yesterday, he picked Northampton's Phil Dowson for a first cap at No 8, alongside new captain Chris Robshaw (one cap) in a remodelled back-row.

As expected, he has gone heavy on the Saracens element outside the scrum, with the Londoners' midfield -- Charlie Hodgson, Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt -- picked en bloc, with David Strettle recalled on the wing.

If there was a surprise, it was in Lancaster's greenhorn bench.

The coach could have played a little safer. But Lancaster is not interested in anyone's safety, least of all his own.

"We're looking to build a team for now, and for the future," he said. "If we're looking for the next Steve Thompson or Jonny Wilkinson, we have to start somewhere. And while there are things we're building on from the recent past, this is a new start. This is game one." (©Independent News Service)


Irish Independent

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