England evolve

Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis looks back at Stuart Lancaster's first 12 months as England head coach

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter: @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 11/01/13 10:31am

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When Stuart Lancaster walked into West Park Leeds RUFC to address the media in January 2012, there was a feeling this was a new dawn for England rugby.

In the aftermath of a disappointing World Cup campaign and Martin Johnson's subsequent exit as manager, Lancaster had been handed the reins on an interim basis for the forthcoming RBS Six Nations.

But despite effectively only having five games to prove his credentials - and with the likes of John Kirwan, Nick Mallett and even Sir Clive Woodward being touted for the role - Lancaster's plans were very much for the long-term.

With wholesale changes to the playing squads, an emphasis on players taking responsibility on and off the field and an off-the-record briefing to explain his plans for the teams, these were revolutionary - and exciting - times.

Sitting in that initial briefing it was easy to see how the former Leeds coach had convinced the RFU that he was the right man to steady the ship.

With a refreshing honesty and calming approach, Lancaster addressed tactics, selection and the players - and, crucially, he talked a lot of sense.

It seems inconceivable to think of someone like Sir Alex Ferguson talking so openly and candidly about such things - but Lancaster subscribes to a different style of man-management.

He is a man to be respected not feared. He is an approachable and engaging guy, who is happy mingling with the press to discuss the weekend's games and talk about his passion.

Professional sport, though, can change people - and there is no doubt that managing the expectations of a nation can have a nasty habit of breaking individuals.

If, as one famous Yorkshireman once stated, "a week in politics is a long time," then a year in sport is an eternity.

And 12 months - and 12 Tests on -Lancaster returned to his adopted home club in Bramhope to address the media once again.

Lancaster's England record

Feb 4 2012 v Scotland (a) W 13-6
Feb 11 2012 v Italy (a) W 19-15
Feb 25 2012 v Wales (h) L 19-12
Mar 11 2012 v France (a) W 24-22
Mar 17 2012 v Ireland (h) W 30-9
Jun 9 2012 v South Africa (a) L 22-17
Jun 16 2012 v South Africa (a) L 36-27
Jun 23 2012 v South Africa (a) D 14-14
Nov 10 2012 v Fji (h) W 54-12
Nov 17 2012 v Australia (h) L 20-14
Nov 24 2012 v South Africa (h) L 15-14
Dec 1 2012 v New Zealand (h) W 38-21

Honeymoon

It hasn't all been perfect for Lancaster during that time but rather than get beaten down by the mistakes, he and his side have looked to constantly learn and evolve.

Finishing second in last season's Six Nations - with tough away wins in Scotland and Italy and memorable wins over France and Ireland - helped secure Lancaster the position on a permanent basis.

However the honeymoon appeared to be over during the summer tour to South Africa as England lost the first two Tests to the Springboks - with mistakes dogging the visitors.

A gutsy 14-14 draw in the third Test restored some of the goodwill but autumn Tests provided a new challenge.

England opened with a convincing win over Fiji - although they were far from perfect - but hopes were high they could then beat Australia, who arrived at Twickenham on the back of a heavy defeat to France.

It wasn't to be as England's decision-making was called into question during the loss. The pressure was cranked up a notch as the Boks secured victory in the next Test.

Importantly, though, despite the final scorelines - and headlines - England hadn't played badly and there were clear signs of improvement.

But with the All Blacks - unbeaten since before the 2011 World Cup - next up, it did look as if England would finish the autumn Tests with a 1-3 record.

Evolution

However, England proved they are heading in the right direction as they recorded an historic 38-21 success.

There is no doubt that the feel-good factor from that game will have helped Lancaster when he faced the press again - but his policy of holding an off-the record briefing allows him to explain his policies.

With one of his trusted lieutenants at his side - this time it was Andy Farrell, while 12 months ago it was Graham Rowntree - Lancaster was able to spell out the plans and discuss tactics before revealing his squads for the coming year.

Both Farrell and Lancaster put forward some interesting points and the signs are encouraging for the long-term future.

Ultimately, the foundations have been put in place over the past 12 months, with England now looking to build on those. The youngsters - such as Joe Launchbury, Mako Vunipola and Freddie Burns - who were blooded in the autumn, retain their places.

And while the EPS selections will not have been met with the same fanfare as in 2012, the inclusion of Billy Vunipola as injury cover and the call-ups of Joel Tomkins, Elliott Daly and Kyle Eastmond in the Saxons squad shows Lancaster continues to have one eye on the future.

And evolution, rather than revolution appears to be the new mantra for England.

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