Graham Rowntree yesterday sent a strong and impassioned message to Rugby Football Union’s chief executive Ian Ritchie — Stuart Lancaster must be appointed England’s full-time head coach.
Speaking in a room just one floor below Ritchie’s office in Twickenham’s south stand, Rowntree credited Lancaster with dragging English rugby “out of the gutter” during his reign as interim head coach.
When England returned from their disastrous World Cup campaign in New Zealand, of which Rowntree was a part, they skulked, unloved and unrespected, out of a back door at Heathrow Airport.
On Saturday, Lancaster’s new-look England thumped Ireland 30-9 to claim second place in the RBS 6 Nations championship and received a standing ovation from the 82,000-strong Twickenham crowd.
The RFU are due to interview their short-listed candidates for the job of Martin Johnson’s permanent successor in the coming days, with the experienced Nick Mallett also thought to be a leading contender.
But forwards coach Rowntree wants Lancaster to stay in charge and for the RFU to recruit Andy Farrell from Saracens on a permanent basis.
“Stuart has dragged us out the gutter,” Rowntree said.
“We had failed (in New Zealand), the whole leaked reports business was messy. That was only a matter of weeks ago but we have come light years in that time.You can’t argue with what he has done with this group culturally and performance-wise. You can’t argue with that as the perfect interview.”
Ritchie has insisted throughout the recruitment process that the new head coach would not be appointed based on Six Nations results alone.
Lancaster delivered on the field but he will also argue to the interview panel he has created the foundations for England to begin building towards the home World Cup in 2015.
And he hinted his proposal to the RFU’s interview panel would be to retain his tight-knit senior management team of Rowntree and Farrell.
Lancaster’s first task when he took charge was to disband the World Cup squad, which had been infected by a lack of trust and competing agendas, and build a new-look England.
His philosophy was to start not with how his new squad would play – but why they want to play for England at all, to establish a new culture of pride, respect and commitment to the jersey.
Lancaster did so by bringing in guest speakers during their pre-tournament camp in Leeds and employing a series of tools during the campaign to reinforce that message.
Mallett conceded after the Ireland game it would be hard for the RFU not to appoint Lancaster because he had succeeded in delivering on that.
“I’ll give you a good example of the spirit in the team,” Rowntree said.
“On Saturday we went back to the hotel and had a cracking night but it was tinged with real sadness because we all felt an emotional journey was coming to an end. I have never experienced that before. I have always been ready for home. To create that environment so quickly is special. It is the best I have known as a player and a coach, better than the Lions because we were in such a low place beforehand.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved