Yesterday it was announced that Stuart Lancaster and his core team, Andy Farrell, Mike Catt and Graham Rowntree have all had their contracts extended until the 2019/2020 season. When he made this announcement, the Chairman of the RFU, Ian Richie, used the following words; "we believe this is entirely the right decision for the future of England Rugby" and I have to say I totally agree with him and here is why.
When Stuart Lancaster took over as Interim Head Coach in 2011 England Rugby was in a state of disarray, the World Cup hadn't gone to plan, across the board morale was low and incidents had occurred that had thrusted the side into the public eye for all of the wrong reasons. Now in the year 2014, just 3 years later, things have turned on their head... the elite side are poised in arguably one of the strongest positions that they have been in for a decade and much of this is down to the men that have just put pen to paper on new contracts.
After being handed the 'interim' position Stuart and the team identified that their key and primary role was to restore the pride in the shirt and build back up a squad that was physically and emotionally battered and bruised. If you ask any member of a Senior Management team in business or a Head Coach in sport developing morale and forming a culture are two of the most difficult tasks, indeed they are much more difficult than developing physical skills. However this is the area that Stuart and his team have excelled at, the pride in the Red Rose and the desire to wear the shirt is greater than ever before and that is not just down to the fact that we have a home World Cup ahead of us. The four individuals are the helm of our sport live and breathe the values of rugby; humility, discipline and hard work and they demand and expect that from their England players too. As fans we can see the results of this on the pitch, England have matured into a hungrier side, a side that demands more from itself and a side that is smarter and more prolific. I'm sure that there are many other aspects that have been put in place by this coaching team that only the players will see and feel the benefits of, for example in regard to training structures, facilities and relationships. Indeed Stuart, Andy, Graham and Mike are all at the top of their game in terms of their people management skills as well as their technical knowledge.
'Hundreds before you. Thousands Around You. Millions Behind You' are the words in the tunnel at Twickenham Stadium and those are the words that inspire not only our England players but this coaching team too. To a man they realise what a privilege their role is and it is through their dedication and commitment that English elite rugby has turned itself around in a short space of time. To date this team haven't put a foot wrong and whilst we all desire England to win the 2015 World Cup if we do not I am in full agreement with Mr Richie that this coaching team should not be disbanded for in my eyes that would be grossly unfair and unproductive. Yes, a contract extension of six years is longer than the norm, however as Ian Richie points out England Rugby's goal is 'sustainable success' and that goal will never, ever be achieved by running at the first hurdle.