The contrast was obvious but it was lost on Ben Youngs.
Twelve months ago, the scrum-half was sinbinned for impetuously throwing the ball away during England’s dismal defeat in Dublin.
On Saturday he was swamped by teammates after he ran over for a try and flung the ball into the crowd against the same opposition.
“Do you know what, all week I haven’t actually thought about what happened in Ireland last year,” said Youngs. “That is a long, long time ago now. As a player you try to learn from those things and move on. It doesn’t pay to dwell on them.”
Youngs has had to bide his time this term behind Lee Dickson but the Leicester nine has played and spoken like a team player.
The thing is, dissenting voices inside the tent have been conspicuous by their absence since Stuart Lancaster was parachuted into the foxhole vacated by Martin Johnson, whose stint in command had been peppered by so much shrapnel.
It’s worth considering just what it is Lancaster has done and the time he has done it in. Handed the role of head coach on a part-time basis, less than a month before the Six Nations, he has delivered four wins, and much more beside, in eight short weeks.
England were a mess after the World Cup. They were a laughing stock riven by internal dissension in both the locker room and in the boardroom but Lancaster has washed away the bile with a back-to-basics approach and a raft of new faces.
Others, like Youngs, have survived the regime change. Most notable among those is Graham Rowntree. Having served Johnson and Lancaster in the same capacity as forwards coach, his verdict on the new man was particularly interesting.
“England have been born again under Stuart. We have come a long way under him. Half that pack made their debuts against Scotland (in the Six Nations opener). That makes the World Cup a distant memory.”
Rowntree added the rider that England are by no means the finished product and there are those who, while impressed with and thankful for Lancaster’s success to date, question whether he is the man to lead them to the next World Cup. England have 37 more games to play between this and their opening fixture at the 2015 tournament, which is being played in their own back garden, and the attraction of a ‘name’ like Nick Mallett remains a draw for some in the RFU.
Lancaster’s band of supporters has mushroomed with the defeats of France and Ireland and even Mallett seemed to concede to the incumbent after Saturday’s game, when he expressed doubts that the English union would tinker with a winning setup. The players themselves, like their coach, were careful to sit astride the fence when asked — and they were all asked — about the eventual decision to appoint a successor to Johnson but it is clear where their loyalties lie.
Owen Farrell’s loyalties are more obvious than most, given his father Andy is the third prong of the current coaching ticket, but the young Saracens star was merely echoing others when he gave his reply to the question over the weekend.
“We have all got the same values,” he said carefully. “We knew when we started that we had a common goal and everyone has bought into that.”
Lancaster knew from the first week things were working when he was told that he would have difficulty securing the eight players required to give lessons in a community coaching clinic on the team’s afternoon off.
In the event, 24 put their hands up.
“I do genuinely believe that if you build a team in the right way, if you get in the right players and coaches and everyone buying in and all working in the same direction, then you should get the results,” said Lancaster..”
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