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Where did SL go wrong and what now?

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Where did SL go wrong and what now? Empty Where did SL go wrong and what now?

Post by englandglory4ever Fri 13 Nov 2015, 9:35 am

Well let's start first with what he didn't get wrong and lay that to rest. Making effort to improve the perceptions of the wider world particularly the media hounds was a noble idea. Things like improving the culture within and taking steps to improve team spirit were all good. As was the idea that England needed to get their supporters four square behind the team. Nothing wrong with that except its affect on the playing field was not immediately apparent. If it helped to keep the hyper critical media ever searching for a scoop off their backs then OK. Money and resources was not a problem and I suspect Argentina and Scotland who would both beat that England side had far less. Neither was selecting Sam Burgess despite all the misplaced hype.

But where did he go wrong because he surely did? It undoubtedly started when he initially took control of the team. The die was cast very early. It was those early decisions on England's direction of travel that sealed England's and SLs fate. He surrounded himself with inexperienced coaches. None of them had achieved anything of note for a national team. Particularly Farrell and Catt. Only Rowntree had some kudos but I would argue he lost his way many moons ago as to what makes a good scrum/pack and of course not forgetting SL himself who was the ultimate newby.. Clarity of thought must have been a rare commodity with this group during their meetings and it became glaringly obvious with the selection for the Wales game. Perhaps his biggest errors were in picking first squad members and then ultimately the match day 23. He used a 'new broom' approach where he brought in young, new and yes, exciting, players but they proved to be too inexperienced or just not good enough. Robshaw is a hard worker but a good 7 and Captain he wasn't. Playing Wood at No8 was a massively bad call as was putting Brown on the wing. RWC sides win with a squad that has many hundreds of caps between them. Dad's army, pensioners, etc. are terms levelled at some RWC winning teams. Invariably the core of the team are 28+ years old. He excluded players like Easter who for the whole 4 years had been ripping up trees in the AP only to be ignored by SL until almost the very last moment. Hartley was excluded only to placate the media not because he had lost form. What SL and his coaches particularly lost sight of was the imperative to WIN every game. That means you put out THE best and most experienced group of (on form) players for every match of importance. Even Barbarian matches et al because putting out a second string and losing undermines the whole structure. So yes, you play your 'dad's army' with a sprinkling of youth and when one player loses form or gets injured you bring in the next best and most experienced player to take his place. Just as Wales had to. Experienced players have made their mistakes and learnt from them over several years. The international field should not be a place where its the norm to make your early mistakes. England must forget about 'building for the future'. The future is here and now and winning their next game is THE ONLY thing that matters. With that mentality a team can grow in an environment where failure is simply not an option. That menality will guide selection. It should ensure only the best players are selected at any given time. Selecting to win at some point in the future is selecting to lose now. Basically, SLs whole ethos from the word go was flawed.

The RFU will do well to choose a coach who has experience of high level rugby and experience of being sacked for losing games. Nothing will focus their minds more.

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Post by No 7&1/2 Fri 13 Nov 2015, 9:39 am

Big problem was moving from an open attcking game plan to try and arm wrestle in the World Cup. Having picked Slade once Joseph was injured he was the obvious choice to come in as the nearest like for like. May have actually helped us anyway given his playmaking skills from midfield.

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Post by offload Fri 13 Nov 2015, 9:55 am

A couple of thoughts. Because of the way rugby is strucured in England (control and contracts with the clubs) the England coach has very few levers to pull at the best of times. Really, all he can do is set a tone / culture, make selections and work on a game plan.

I would say that in SL's case, selection was poor and inconsistent, even though he was unlucky not to have a particularly strong pool of players to start with. He didn't make the most of what he had.

England aren't a bad team and if we hadn't had the stupidity of Wales, Australia and England in one pool SL would still have his job.

Can't see England reaching their potential at international level whilst 12 clubs call all the shots in a league with relegation. Doesn't matter who the coach is.
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Post by Cyril Fri 13 Nov 2015, 10:16 am

offload wrote: Can't see England reaching their potential at international level whilst 12 clubs call all the shots in a league with relegation.  Doesn't matter who the coach is.
While I want England to do well, there's no way I'd be happy with the RFU having the power to force sides to play in a certain style or move players around from club to club for the 'good' of the international game. I'm not sure I'd want to lose relegation either. The club game is the heartbeat of the sport and the premiership is a great league to watch. I don't just want it to be seen as a breeding ground for international players. It needs to have value in its own right.

There are certainly improvements to be made, but with the EPS and player access, the national coaches still have plenty of scope to create an excellent national team. As long as the RFU management structures and coaches are right of course. A fairly big 'if'!

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Post by bluestonevedder Fri 13 Nov 2015, 10:20 am

Selection was his fall down in my opinion.

He constantly shook up the mid-field when we needed to give combinations a try, but then conversely, he didn't ever shake-up the backrow, which is where we needed additional options.

Tuilagi was pretty much injured for 80% of Lancaster's tenure, so he was without his first choice OC. I don't think this particularly helped the situation.

The final nail in the coffin was as other people have said, when he decided to deviate away from what had been England's strength- an attacking, fast game, in order to try and beat Wales.

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Post by eirebilly Fri 13 Nov 2015, 10:24 am

My thoughts.

SL is a very good coach, excellent in fact and a very good man. That said, he is a very weak personality that allowed too much interference from Andy Farrell and the RFU.

With Owen Farrell injured, England under Lancaster, set up a very solid backline capable to play good rugby off the back foot as well as off the front foot. Owen Farrell is not injured, Andy Farrell pressures Lancaster to select him over ford and implements a more RL approach to England's game plan. Massive mistake and one that I feel is Lancaster's for allowing this to happen.

RFU pressured Lancaster to pick him above more experienced players simply to try and garner a wider audience (the RL fans interested to see how their boy went). It was more a publicity stunt and I am pretty sure this would not have happened if the RWC15 was not held in England. Again I feel this is Lancaster's fault for giving in.

Lancaster is a nice man and a good coach but is simply not strong enough to be a head coach of an International team right now. Just hope your new coach is a strong personality.
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Post by Barney McGrew did it Fri 13 Nov 2015, 10:46 am

First - he had the wrong vision for our current best players. He tried an all mobile skill full handling game-plan which the players were either (1) unused to in their club rugby and/or (2) weren’t good enough to perform at the top level.

Second – his vision, such as it was, was muddled. This idea of the RL one-type-fits-all doesn’t work with RU. Particularly in the BR and back 3 you need complementary roles for balance, not one type. His apparent lack of interest in the set-piece is a worry for an England team.

Third – he was too slow to develop the back line, we still had no idea of his preferred selection right up to the RWC.

Fourth – he was unlucky (to a degree) in the RWC in that a significant number of 1st selection players were just coming back from injury or were unavailable.

Fifth – his inexperience showed when the pressure was on, he bottled his principles and went all reactive, turning an attacking tactic into a defensive one.

Last – Slammin’ Sam, he knew he wanted him, but just didn’t seem to know why.

On the plus side, he's a good guy and he did try hard. Nice try but no cigar.
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Post by jbeadlesbigrighthand Fri 13 Nov 2015, 12:41 pm

A really good and balanced article. Thanks.

For my money, I think Lancaster made a few key errors:

Picking players for their all-round ability, rather than their positional skill-set. It seemed like England were picking players who weren't great at the primary functions for their positions, but then picking other players to paper over that. It simply seemed a bit illogical. Pick a guy who's good at what he should be doing, not because he's good at what someone else should be doing.

Terrible bench selections. Not picking a back three player on the bench against Australia was criminal. Not in hindsight, but predictably so. Too often, England seemed to want to pick a bench for 'impact' without thinking about what would happen if there was an injury.

Coaching team. I do wonder whether Lancaster selected coaches primarily because they bought into his ethos of hard work and strong values, rather than looking for innovative thinkers who could bring something different.

He was too focussed on discipline and rules. Armitage would have given England another dimension in the backrow. Hartley was simply England's best hooker and the only player who could provide sufficient set piece ability with a mobile pack around him.

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Post by cb Fri 13 Nov 2015, 2:43 pm

All coaches make mistakes, it is just that if they win no-one notices or minds.  That said I think his weaknesses were in selection and in being a bit pre-meditated (and conservative) and not reacting to the moment. For example, when making substitutions.

One area that does (still) puzzle me is the pack.  Yes, I see getting fit being a high priority but against Wales we seemed to be less fit and less capable.  Ditto against Australia.  I can see a trade-off between muscle and mobility but for some reason the pack seemed to lose its previous advantages and never gained anything.

There seemed to be a deliberate template applied to players (the "all-rounder").  I would be interested to know whether this was coming mainly from Lancaster or from the others coaches or was it a real concensus?

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Post by Armchairexpert Fri 13 Nov 2015, 3:37 pm

In terms of the World Cup campaign itself the conditioning was just wrong, too much focus on body fat percentage which is no measure of fitness and seriously reduces power. The whole pack looked completely knackered in the warm up against France and they never recovered. People like to knock Robshaw for not being a proper 7 but he has outplayed the best in the world or at least matched them plenty of times and answered his critics. I thoroughly expected him to do the same this WC but he looked a shadow of himself. As did Cole and Marler.

Muddled mid fields didn't help but if the pack had done their job it probably wouldn't have been an issue

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Post by englandglory4ever Fri 13 Nov 2015, 5:01 pm

I agree with both cb and armchair above there seemed to be something wrong with the forwards. They definitely did not perform well as a unit and were probably the major area of weakness. Most of the packs in that RWC would have given England real problems our backrow was particularly weak.

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Post by Hood83 Fri 13 Nov 2015, 7:55 pm

Armchairexpert wrote:In terms of the World Cup campaign itself the conditioning was just wrong, too much focus on body fat percentage which is no measure of fitness and seriously reduces power. The whole pack looked completely knackered in the warm up against France and they never recovered. People like to knock Robshaw for not being a proper 7 but he has outplayed the best in the world or at least matched them plenty of times and answered his critics. I thoroughly expected him to do the same this WC but he looked a shadow of himself. As did Cole and Marler.

Muddled mid fields didn't help but if the pack had done their job it probably wouldn't have been an issue

I thought perhaps not enough! All our pack looked like they'd lost about a 10 kilos from their limbs and added it straight to their guts. We looked awful and we played awful.

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Post by doctor_grey Fri 13 Nov 2015, 8:42 pm

I have a few thoughts about Lancaster which are not entirely about Rugby, more about thought process.  

First off, I think he is a technically sound Rugby man, an outwardly good person who genuinely believes what he says about culture and so on, and really believed he was doing the right thing.  

I believe it's his personality type which is not a good fit and this is what led to many of the actions (decisions?) about which we have been critical.  He is obviously an excellent and detailed planner.  A meticulous planner.   He had a long term vision and was able to communicate it.  I am sure during his interviews with the RFU he presented a very compelling vision which he understood thoroughly and was conversant with every detail.   And in which he believed utterly.  Detailed plans developed by a knowledgeable person was probably an easy hire.

So why did he fail?  Unfortunately, I think he simply doesn't have the ability or desire to deviate from his detailed plan.  I am sure his plan was solid at the outset.  Indeed he had good results quickly.  However, once things began to change, players got injured, replacement players either had different skill sets or were unable to mesh with the rest of the team in the same manner, opponnents change game plan, and so on, he was unable to adapt.    In fact we saw many instances of him trying to wedge players into his plan rather than adapting his plan to the players available:
- players out of positon (to sustain the plan)
- planned replacements at specified times (regardless of situation)
- total confidence in some players whether in form or not and whether or not their skills were approproate for the opponent.  Frequently other players had to scratch for game time though they were fit and a good match for the opponent.  
And so on.  

So, to me, before we assess the many good tactical points made in this string, I think we need to be more basic:  Do we have a coach who has the ability to adapt, is flexible, whilst still a knowledgeable and solid Rugby man.  In American Football, the successful coaches are the ones who make the beast halftime adjustments.  This is what we need.  

In the army the expression is the plan is good until the first shot is fired.  
In Rugby, we used to say the plan was good utill the first weird bounce of the ball.
I don't think Lancaster was able to deal when the ball didn't bounce according to plan.  

In life we see this all the time.  There are planners and there are do-ers.  The successful leader is the person who has attributes of both, and is comfortable yielding some of those aspects at which he/she understands is not a strength.  We need a leader first and foremost, then we go for the coaches.  Ain't easy..........

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Post by Gwlad Mon 16 Nov 2015, 2:37 am

Its simple

He went wrong when he took the job

He should never have taken it he simply wasn't qualified

After Jonno anything English was better, a foreign coach should have been employed

Lancaster mistook his role

He should have emphasized results

Had he produced any at all he may have had time to change the culture

Sadly Manu beating NZ when they were sick mislead everyone; the result was an outlier and created a sense of competence that Lnacaster never truly owned

He was unconsciously incompetent. A bit like the RFU.

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Post by SecretFly Mon 16 Nov 2015, 12:45 pm

He listened to the legend of Slammin' Sam and allowed himself to believe in the vision of Sam hoisting the Cup in the fairytale story of the year.

In other words, he allowed himself to be led. And that created underground friction in the camp and moans and groans, and the previous perfect WC plan was diluted virtually at the very opening ceremony.

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Post by nlpnlp Mon 16 Nov 2015, 2:13 pm

I think Slammin' Sam was a symptom of the weakness and not particularly the cause.  Lancaster simply had no pedigree as a club or international player, or as a coach.  He had no experience of the pressure at the top level, the small margins that make the difference between winning and losing.  So whenever England got into a high pressure match, we blew it.  Against Wales in 2013, France 2014, Ireland 2015, France 2015 (we shipped far too many points to win the title), Wales 2015 world cup and Australia 2015 world cup.

As has been noted above, the win against New Zealand in 2012 hid a lot of the problems, as did a couple of wins against poor Australian sides.

Lancaster became fixated with mobile forwards, so we ended up with a front row that couldn't scrummage, second rows who could play at 6, and  two flankers who were 6.5s.  I think a part of why our forwards looked so tired at the world cup, was because of this and the fact we struggled at scrum time rather than the opposition.

We went into the world cup with no centre pairing and a squad selection of JJ (who only got his chance under Lancaster due to injuries to others), Barritt who never looked fit or in form, Slade who Lancaster obviously didn't trust to play and only picked him when we were out of the world cup and Slammin' Sam who was not good enough to play centre at club level and only had 11 months union experience.  We ended up with teams that fell short of the number of caps deemed to be ideal to win the world cup, as he handed out caps quite randomly to players who ultimately didn't make the squad (Twelvetrees, Burrell, Eastmond, etc).

His bench selection was poor and his substitutions apparently preplanned rather than be planned on the basis of the match actually being played.

He failed to install discipline on or off the pitch, and ultimately left out Hartley to prove how tough he was.  This only highlighted the poor squad selection as Webber who was second choice, was not club first choice and again Lancaster refused to pick George the form hooker in the league that season.

There was absolutely no ability to amend the style of our backrow by picking a genuine 7.  It was Robshaw, Wood and Haskell - all virtually interchangeable and two similar no 8s in Vunipola and Morgan (again a player who never looked fit or in form at the world cup).

All the above were symptons of Lancasters lack of experience and big-game savvy.  From the various bits of tittle tattle coming out in the press - his handling of the coaches and players seemed equally muddled.  I am not necessarily a great fan of Gatland ball, but Wales have a game plan and a variety of players to play it.  To do as well as they did in the last 2 world cups, with the limited number of players they have and the injuries, indicates to me what a good coach with a clear plan can achieve.  No amount of words about culture, playing for the shirt, etc will make up for that.

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Post by No 7&1/2 Mon 16 Nov 2015, 2:36 pm

Pretty much every 6 Nations game is high pressure though. Some of it is down to the fact we didn't have as many good to great players as Wales and Ireland over the last 4 years. Looking at some of the younger ones around now and the near future the next 4 years should be a bit better in that respect.

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Post by TJ Mon 16 Nov 2015, 3:47 pm

My view - he initially did fine he developed ( bar centres?) a squad of players where he had 2 folk for every position. He got the culture right

Where he went wrong was selection / tactics for the 2 crunch games in the WC. He selected to stop the opposition not to impose his own game plan - thus negating his best attacking in the back 3 by denying them ball. He simply had a failure of nerve I think

One point from the OP - players like Easter are not the answer - ripping it up he may be for his club but he simply cannot cut it at international level - simply too slow

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Post by emack2 Tue 17 Nov 2015, 1:46 am

There is historically a gulf between SH and NH Rugby,from time to time since 1905/6
NH has closed the gap.
IF you are truthfull and look at the results England/France have something like
just over 50% v AUS.40% v SA and 26% v NZ[rough figures before anyone jumps
on them]
Wales/France had run in the 1970`s,Wales in the late 2000`s,France everynow and again
1950`s on,England roughly 1970=2003.
Of these SCW`s 1997-2004 stats were played 81,won 59,drew 2 lost 22 of these
21 were wins over tier 2/3 sides,versus NZ 9 -2-1-6,Aus 10-5-1-4,Sa 10-6-4,France
10-6-4.Ireland 7-5-2,Scotland 7-6-1,Wales 9-8-1.
For various reasons the continuity built up under Cooke.Rowell.SCW ceased in 2004.
Many good players 2004-11 were for various reasons allowed to drift into rejection
or find jobs overseas.
Four coaches later we are back to 2004,Robinson[20%],Ashton/Johnson[50%]Lancaster {60%}records till being sacked.
England control in practical terms lies with RFU,England Coaches]and the clubs,the
Overseas players bit is RFU policy[with some possible deviation],is the bad boys policy
too?
There seems no Culture/Identity set up for want of better words for players in trouble
being managed and if possible rehabilitated.On the SA/NZ plan with greater or lesser
success.
Lancaster was hired as a caretaker post 2011,because of his work with Saxons and
Academy.During his tenure he has created a pool of Good if not yet great young
players.
What is his crime?failing to regularly beat the SH sides?which England coaches have?
Produced sides which lost 1 game a year each over 4 years vNH better than SCW`s
record.Second in 4 successive 6Ns of 3 were equal decided on points difference.
He was in a RWC Group where any one of 3 sides roughly equal could have won it.
He adopted the classic RWC posture don`t lose rather than can win,just like Scotland,
Ireland,Wales,France it didn't come off,would Wales or Aus caused such a fuss if they`d
failed to get out of group.
Australia had a card advantage in most of there games except Wales [now they really
should be ashamed of losing that one.]
Face facts England are currently with te right selections the equal of any of the 6Ns
sides.They have players in the clubs can play any style,they HAVE`NT a side that
could regularly beat SH sides up to RWC2015.
THAT applied realistically to all the NH sides [not the odd match but regularly beat
them.
When looking for Coaches despite the money,few people will want to know about it.
The Future?a Manager to deal with the Politics and the Press,total lockdown on
Players tweeting/leaking to media,a New Coaching set up route and branch,try
to finance school boys up Rugby on SH pattern.
Try and organize the Season,Cup Ties,6Ns,club comps in that order.
Try to reduce number of games played if it means bigger squads so be it.
Access to overseas based players if required negotiated,Clubs managing injured/
rest players as required finaced by RFU etc.
Of course this will never happen there will be the usual words,temporary fixes
then another bloodletting down the line.

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Post by No 7&1/2 Tue 17 Nov 2015, 8:11 am

What do you mean by 'There seems no Culture/Identity set up for want of better words for players in trouble being managed and if possible rehabilitated.On the SA/NZ plan with greater or lesser
success'? I think the reintergration of players has been good, who and what incident are you thinking of?

I'm hearing a lot of the fact that England won't be able to attract the man/men they want but I'm going to hold off on that until we see who they actually go for.

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Post by Breadvan Tue 17 Nov 2015, 10:54 am

Wales away in 2013. Selecting Wood at 8 and not preparing the players for the hostile atmos and the Walsh reffed scrum.
Ireland this year, the inability to prepare and counter Irelands kicking.
Wales in the group stage. The midfield selection, which was doing its job tbf so why take Burgess off? Farrell at 10. The constant indiscipline.
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