Special Report: Stuart Lancaster reflects on the autumn international series
Last Updated: 26/12/12 1:14pm
England coach Stuart Lancaster was the guest on Monday night's Special Report on Sky Sports News.
He reflected on a rollercoaster autumn international series in which he saw his team beat Fiji, then lose to Australia and South Africa before pulling off one of the greatest victories in English rugby history, beating world champions New Zealand.
Lancaster also discussed next summer's Lions tour, his refusal to pick France-based players - and the importance to England of the 2015 World Cup, which takes place on home soil.
"We never lost belief during the series. It was a tough series," he said. "We didn't quite get home against Australia or South Africa but the self-belief held in the week leading up to the New Zealand game. It was great to get the win.
"We've always had the self-belief but we've lacked experience. New Zealand had 788 caps in their team I think - we had 206. But the plan was hatched 11 months ago when we finished the World Cup and I got the opportunity as interim coach to set up a new team and build towards 2015."
Lancaster replaced Martin Johnson as coach on an interim basis ahead of the 2012 Six Nations and he says England have been making steady progress since.
"We grew a lot in the Six Nations and then it was on to South Africa and that summer series gave us a lot of confidence, particularly the third Test draw in Port Elizabeth," he said.
The defeats to Australia and South Africa led to some negative press for Lancaster and his squad, and few predicted England would beat the All Blacks, let alone by a record margin.
And Lancaster revealed he took his tactical inspiration from his opponents.
"We learned a lot from New Zealand. They are very good at building pressure on teams and building a score. They go 3-0, 6-0, 9-0 and get a try and suddenly you are 16-0 down.
"So to go in at half-time 15-0 up on Saturday was a huge boost. Obviously they came back to 15-14 but the most pleasing thing for us as coaches was that the players went back at the New Zealanders.
"You knew New Zealand would come back at us - but there was no sense of panic. That's where we've matured and going forward that will hold us in good stead.
"The most pleasing thing of the whole game was the last minute and a half - we were down to 14 men and defending the try line and to not concede a try at that point showed a lot of the spirit of the lads."
Lancaster said the key difference between the losing performances against the Springboks and Wallabies and their stunning effort against New Zealand was simple.
"Composure. Dealing with the pressure of decision making," he said. "We gave away a try against Australia, under pressure, we didn't kick well, we had a poor kick-chase, we didn't organise ourselves and suddenly Australia got the try and that proved to be the difference.
"In the South Africa game one or two of the set pieces didn't go as we hoped, and there was some key decision-making (issues) too. But we learned and learned quickly."
Skipper Chris Robshaw came under heavy criticism for opting to kick a penalty late in the South Africa game, which cut the gap to four points. Time quickly ran out, and many pundits felt England had to kick for the corner and go for the try.
But Lancaster said the way the team rallied after that dispiriting defeat made him think the unthinkable - a victory over the world champions was possible.
"I could see something special building in the week leading up to the New Zealand game and we've got a fantastic group of young players who are desperate to play for England," he said.
Lancaster is particular encouraged by the emergence of some young players.
"Opportunities sometimes present themselves. You look at Dylan Hartley getting an injury and Tom Youngs, a recently converted centre, comes in at hooker and steps up to the plate. It's an unbelievable story. You could attribute the same to (Wasps lock) Joe Launchbury," he said.
"I take a lot of information from different sources but one is the club and (Wasps coach) Dai Young - who is a pretty good coach - turned round to me and said he is the first name on their team sheet.
"When you sat and coached him alongside other players who were getting picked for England you could see quite clearly he was ready to play international rugby. To do it at such a young age is fantastic for him. He's a great lad, very grounded."
Lancaster's next challenge will be the Six Nations, and then a summer tour when a squad shorn of Lions players will go to Argentina.
And Lancaster is hoping that some of his coaching staff will not be wearing the white tracksuits of England next summer, but the red of the Lions.
Andy Farrell, Mike Catt and Graham Rowntree will all be in the frame for jobs on Lions coach Warren Gatland's staff.
And Lancaster said: "I think we should support our coaches if they do get the chance. It's the highest honour.
"It would leave me with a decision to make about my staff for the Argentina tour. But I wouldn't stand in anyone's way of that honour."
There has been a clamour in some quarters for Lancaster to recall some former England men who now ply their trade in France, in particular Toulon's Andrew Sheridan and Steffon Armitage.
Lancaster though admits there is unlikely to be a way back for them.
"I've always been consistent - it's going to be difficult for them. They can't come to the camps. The players couldn't have played against New Zealand. I want our best English players to play in England. You can never say never, but it's always going to be more difficult if players go abroad," he said.
Earlier on Monday the draw for the 2015 World Cup took place, and England were given a tough task, picked out in the same group as Australia and Wales.
Lancaster though says that the most important aspect of the victory against New Zealand is that the English rugby public may now believe they can win the tournament in 2015.
"There will always be pressure. But the (win over New Zealand) has helped show people...the plan and the direction we are going.
"I think a lot of people thought 'I'm not too convinced we're going in the right direction.' But hopefully people can see the direction - and it's the right one. Hopefully it will provide England with a future not just for the 2015 World Cup but beyond that."