Video: Setting 'benchmark' of victory over French just the job for Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster said yesterday that belief in his own ability to do the England coaching job permanently more than compensated for a lack of sharp-end experience. And the interim coach added that it was just this sort of bullish attitude that his young side needed to adopt for tomorrow's Six Nations match in Paris if they were to end the home side's 10-game unbeaten run at the Stade de France.
News that South Africa's World Cup-winning coach, Jake White, has withdrawn from the running for the post of England head coach means that rookie Lancaster is pitted against former Springboks coach Nick Mallett. As France have four times as many caps to their name, so does Mallett have far more notches on his coaching belt. But, Lancaster insists, neither he nor England are about to shy at that seemingly insurmountable hurdle.
"We said at Friday's team meeting that the only thing that matters is what's inside this room, the belief that is there in each other and in the direction we're going," said Lancaster.
"If you weighed up the experience of the French against ours, you'd say there's only one team in with a chance of winning. Our players are in a good place. Experience is one thing, self-belief another. That applies to coaching, too. I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't have confidence in my ability to do the job."
It is understood that a first round of interviews has already happened and that further sessions will take place over the coming days. Despite Mallett's seeming advantage, it is also believed that power brokers at the RFU still hold an open mind as to who is best suited for the job.
Certainly victory over France, and Ireland at Twickenham, would boost Lancaster's cause. The man himself insists that he has not been dealt an unfair hand by the union's decision to hold interviews during the championship. "It's never been a distraction," said Lancaster. "I've never thought about it (the interview) or the long term. I've known from the outset that this is an interim position. All you can think about is the next game."
Lancaster was on the mark, too, when he described beating France away from home as a "benchmark". They may be volatile or unpredictable but they are formidable opposition, especially at home.
There will be few ghosts echoing round the Stade de France for this England team, no fear of past failures present in anxious minds. There are only five survivors in the starting XV named by Lancaster yesterday from the side that lost the World Cup quarter-final to France in Auckland.
Two changes on the bench bring the return of lock Tom Palmer and fly-half Charlie Hodgson.
England travelled to the French capital last night intent on showing that there truly was merit in defeat to Wales a fortnight ago in Twickenham. England are spurred by loftier ideals than keeping their boss in a job.
Pride in the shirt is allied to a desire to play true to each other, to back mates in hostile situations, and that sense of team has been a powerful entity over the past five weeks.
Lancaster was correct to dismiss the notion that he is preoccupied with employment issues. Far more prominent is the prospect of a mighty France pack, a pair of kicking half-backs in Julien Dupuy and Lionel Beauxis (the only changes from the draw with Ireland), and the anxiety of a tricolores backline slipping the leash and causing havoc.
There is one phantom in the rafters, that of the French scrum which inflicted much misery on two of those on duty in 2010, hooker Dylan Hartley and prop, Dan Cole. "A little bit of redemption would be nice this time," said Hartley.
Lancaster revealed that England have spent a huge amount of time scrummaging over the past few days, recognising that if the pack is as vulnerable in that area as it was against Wales, then the mission is doomed.
"We've got to make sure we go with a front-foot mentality," he said.
"The scrum is a rite of passage for France, an opportunity for them to impose their will on the game."
Lancaster has done his homework. The interview will have to look after itself. If it goes horribly wrong tomorrow, no amount of swotting will compensate. England, though, look well prepared for the audition that really matters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
France -- C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu; L Beauxis, J Dupuy; JB Poux, D Szarzewski, N Mas; P Papé, Y Maestri; T Dusautoir (capt), J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy. Reps: W Servat, V Debaty, L Nallet, L Picamoles, M Parra, F Trinh-Duc, M Mermoz.
England -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell, L Dickson; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, D Cole; M Botha, G Parling; T Croft, C Robshaw, B Morgan. Reps: R Webber, M Stevens, T Palmer, P Dowson, B Youngs, C Hodgson, M Brown.
REF -- A Rolland (IRFU).
France v England,
Live, tomorrow, RTE 2, BBC 1, 3.0