England’s Rugby World Cup training camp is only three days old but the build-up to it has been dominated by disciplinary issues involving three players.
Considering his prime goal when appointed England Head Coach in 2012 was to rid the team of their well-deserved reputation for being poorly behaved, Lancaster should be fuming that some of his key men have let him down so badly.
Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley have been dealt with, banned after admitting to assaulting two female police officers and for yet another on-field bout of red mist, respectively.
Now we have Danny Cipriani, who will discover in early August whether he is to be charged with a drink-driving offence following an early morning accident after England’s win over the Barbarians on May 31.
Cipriani is confident he will not be charged, but Lancaster has a right to be disappointed the incident is overshadowing the early days of the training camp.
So it is no surprise that Lancaster used his team meeting on Monday to tell his players he will accept no more lapses. That message has been rammed home in one-on-ones, and the players themselves have discussed it away from the coaching staff.
Tom Wood, a key member of the senior leadership group, is in no doubt that standards have slipped too far – but points out that the players are not scared of the press or public reaction, but rather losing the respect of their peers.
“The culture we have comes down to the standards we have set ourselves and what has become acceptable on a day-to-day basis,” he told the Irish Examiner at the team’s Pennyhill Park training base this week.
“It is about the level of commitment of the players, and taking ownership of the programme. We are responsible to one another and that is important.
“We want the power of the nation behind us, for the fans to believe in us and to be good role models.
“But more than anything it is about trusting one another, looking across the changing room and knowing the guy next to you has done the work and has the discipline on and off the field. That is really important to us.
“It (the culture of the team) has changed dramatically from when I got involved. Hopefully it is sustainable and we will keep it going.” Wood is referring to the 2011 World Cup, when English players drank heavily, threw dwarves around and badly underperformed on the pitch.
Players who were involved then do not look back on the tournament with any fondness, and off the record they will talk about how little they enjoyed being at the centre of the storm – particularly those who had not misbehaved in the slightest.
Now, to keep this issue even more firmly in the spotlight, Martin Johnson – World Cup winning captain turned Head Coach in 2011 – is facing the media tomorrow. The topic of alcohol will figure highly.
But Lancaster and Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive, have so far played straight bats to all enquiries as they insist there is no fundamental problem within the squad.
“I don’t feel let down,” Ritchie told Examiner Sport when contacted in regard to the latest revelations.
“I feel disappointed for them (the players involved) and they must feel that as well. This is the moment of a lifetime for them to play in, so to miss it is extremely sad.
“We have spoken to and learnt from those people who were involved in 2011 and are still involved in the England team.
“Those events (involving Tuilagi and Hartley) were undoubtedly sad but I don’t think it is endemic in anyway shape or form. I don’t think it is a situation where we have any issues with the culture.”
Lancaster agrees, saying this week he will not consider either a curfew or an alcohol ban. But this week also marks the end of his patience. No more slips will be tolerated, and a final warning has been issued to the entire squad.
“I have reminded the players of their responsibilities,” said Lancaster. “We have talked about what we’re about, what we stand for as a group and the foundations of how you build a winning team.
“I think the players know their responsibilities and the consequence of poor behaviour and poor decisions. I will be very disappointed if we have to deal with any more of these things.”
Lancaster has had enough of being let down. England’s ill-discipline ends here.