Disciplinarian Lancaster impressing RFU chiefs
Updated: January 17, 2012, 13:38
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LONDON(AP) Interim England coach Stuart Lancaster has improved his chances of being hired for the role on a full-time basis - before he has even taken charge of a match.
While English rugby chiefs scour the world in search of a replacement for Martin Johnson, Lancaster has been temporarily put in charge of the national team for the upcoming Six Nations.
He has already impressed the Rugby Football Union with his hard-line approach to discipline - one of England's major failings during its dismal World Cup campaign in New Zealand last year - and his selection last week of a new-look elite player squad.
Former South Africa coach Nick Mallett and ex-New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith have been widely linked with the permanent coaching position, yet the solution may well be on the RFU's doorstep.
"All of the good things you have seen Stuart has done have made a massive impact, and that is the kind of thing you want,'' acting RFU chief executive Stephen Brown said on Tuesday.
"It is not just about the results. Clearly that is important and the focus, but we need to build a team that is strong from a performance point of view and from a cultural point of view for the long term. They are key bits we need in place and Stuart is focused on those things as well.''
Lancaster is little known outside British rugby circles - he joined the RFU in 2008 as its head of Elite Player Development, which included taking charge of the second-string Saxons team, having previously been coach of Leeds Carnegie.
However, the RFU had no hesitation in handing first-team affairs temporarily to Lancaster after Johnson left his post following the World Cup. The new coach has established a reputation for being a disciplinarian.
He dropped Danny Care from the elite squad after the scrumhalf was arrested twice in the space of three weeks for alcohol-related offenses, and will draft in high-profile British sportsmen to make motivational speeches to the squad ahead of the Six Nations.
Rugby league internationals Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield have been invited to address Lancaster's 32-man group about what it means to represent their country on the international stage, with former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville also reportedly set to speak.
"That is the admirable bit about Stuart,'' Brown said. "He is not just focused on winning.''
Victories in the Six Nations will help Lancaster's cause, of course, should he choose to apply for the full-time position.
With the RFU hoping to make an appointment before the end of the Six Nations, which starts on Feb. 4, the time-scale is against Lancaster, particularly if England struggles to make a good start in the northern hemisphere competition. The team's opening games are against Scotland, Italy and Wales.
"Stuart has to make the decision about whether he wants to be considered for the role. If he does then we will make sure there is time (to make his case),'' Brown said.
"The door is not shut, it's open.''
All potential candidates for the England job will be considered by a selection panel chaired by newly appointed RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie, who will leave the All England Club on Feb. 27 to take up his new post.