ENGLAND coach Stuart Lancaster knows better than anyone what it means to be “just” an interim appointment and, as he prepares to welcome Scotland to Twickenham in nine days’ time, he says they may benefit from Scott Johnson’s temporary tag.
Lancaster was handed the England reins in the wake of the World Cup fall-out of 2011 and popular opinion had it that he would take the national side through the RBS Six Nations and then hand over to a “big name”. Instead, he claimed victories over Scotland, Italy, France and Ireland and was only denied a Grand Slam by a superb Welsh effort. So he is now the man tasked with carrying England to the 2015 World Cup and is now wary of Scotland emulating his side’s efforts of last spring.
Asked if Johnson could use his interim status as a positive, Lancaster said: “You can create an awful lot in that situation.
“To a certain extent there’s a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality that can run through the coaching team to the players. Ultimately, the coaches will influence how the players feel. I don’t think I’d have done anything differently if I’d not been the interim coach, but the interim bit is powerful.”
Scotland come into the Six Nations after an an autumn Test series whitewash, capped by losing to Tonga, while England, in contrast, are buzzing after defeating New Zealand.
Lancaster added: “This time last year we were on the back of a World Cup and a leaked report, front and back page headlines that were nothing to do with rugby. No-one gave us a chance of winning but we did.
“What’s happened in the past doesn’t define what happens in the future. It gives you a reference point, but doesn’t define it.”
Lancaster is taking a similar approach to the tournament this year, taking the squad to Leeds tomorrow for a public training session with an expected crowd of over 6,000. However, of concern is the make-up of his back line. Flanker Tom Johnson is out of the tournament with knee ligament damage, stand-off Freddie Burns is out of the first two games with a less serious ligament injury, as is Alex Corbisiero, the loosehead prop. Centre Manu Tuilagi is a doubt and Alex Goode has recovered from a shoulder injury but has not played for seven weeks and will have a run-out for his club Saracens this weekend.
“Selection going into the Scotland game is not as simple as perhaps you might think off the back of the All Blacks game,” added Lancaster, “with people not being available, and Dylan [Hartley] and Ben Foden now back in the equation.”
He added: “But it’s exciting and we’re looking forward to next weekend.
“This time last year we were going up to Scotland with an interim coaching team. No-one gave us much of a chance and it’s amazing what you can generate with emotion and energy, and there is probably no better fixture at the moment for Scotland than England at Twickenham.”