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Lancaster: 'A real strength' that Ireland have compared to England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Ex-England boss Stuart Lancaster has explained why his country’s wider player pool from across the Gallagher Premiership is a far more challenging task to handle than the setup at Guinness Six Nations rivals Ireland. The current Leinster senior coach was in charge across four championship campaigns during his stint from 2012 to 2015, his England team finishing second every year before they went on to be eliminated from the 2015 World Cup in the pool stages

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The Premiership at that time in the Lancaster era was a twelve-team league but it now has 13 participants and the spread of talent across the league is evident in the origin of the 37 England players that Eddie Jones brought with him to Brighton for the week-long training camp ahead of the 2022 Six Nations that will start with a February 5 trip to Scotland. 

Jones has players from twelve different clubs with him at the moment, Worcester the only team not to have any player involved. Premiership leaders Leicester lead the way, the recall of George Ford on Monday to replace injured skipper Owen Farrell bumping up the Tigers contingent in the England squad to six, one player more than the five that Harlequins, Exeter and Saracens have each provided (Saracens’ number was bumped up with Nick Isiekwe called in as injury cover for Courtney Lawes, who is going through the return to play concussion protocol). 

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Rob Kearney and Alfie Barbeary – A Lion and a Wasp
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Rob Kearney and Alfie Barbeary – A Lion and a Wasp

Four clubs, meanwhile, have one player each included – Wasps, Newcastle, Gloucester (now that Jonny May has pulled out injured) and London Irish – with Bristol (two), Sale and Bath (three each), and Northampton (four each) completing the makeup of the squad. 

In contrast, the 37-strong Ireland squad that Andy Farrell currently has with him in Portugal for their warm-weather camp consists of 16 players from Lancaster’s Leinster, nine from Munster, eight from Ulster and four from Connacht. 

Farrell worked under Lancaster as his England defence coach and having now seen at close-hand how both international team setups operate from his time working in Dublin at provincial level since 2016, the ex-England boss has outlined why Leinster potentially having up to ten to twelve players in an Ireland XV is “a real strength”.

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Asked by the Irish Daily Star whether having one club team so heavily dominate a national side was a good or a bad thing, Lancaster said: “One of the challenges with England was having twelve teams and usually the spread was not even but there was usually three or four for most of the top clubs, specifically top eight.

“The challenge for me at the time, I remember when I first took over the sort of top teams Saracens, Bath, Northampton, Leicester, all four of them played differently, very differently. Obviously, they clearly believed in the way that they were playing because they had achieved success, getting to Premiership semi-finals and finals. 

“And so what you were faced with then is trying to merge those different opinions on how the game should be played from a player’s perspective into ‘this is the way we’re going to play’. You’re trying to take the best of all the teams where the players come from, which is a challenge when you have got that many teams.

“In Ireland, obviously, having four teams who are all different in their own way but in some ways, the emphasis is similar in the way in which the teams are coached because that is why the games are always so competitive. So for Andy, it’s a real strength. In terms of balance from one side, you can see from the likes of the Munster, Ulster and Connacht players getting rewarded for their form. So you know, that is the nature of the beast in Ireland. 

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“The challenge is to create a team that has cohesion and can execute for the staff because the Six Nations is a results-based business and one thing I’d say in Ireland’s benefit is our stability in selection and stability in the coaching. 

A great November series to bounce on the back of whereas you look at the other teams, you France have made ten changes on Monday, England have got some new players coming in who not been in the international environment before, so Ireland are in a good place. But from a national perspective with England, it definitely was a challenge for sure.”

So it is about the best players or units that work together on club teams? “There is a lot more pluses than minuses for sure. There is a company called Gain Line Analytics and it looks at team cohesion. Basically, their premise is that the team that has the most experience of playing together generally comes out on top when all things are equal. 

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“It isn’t solely club combinations, you can have international combinations. So you would like to say, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, even though they don’t play in the same club, they know each other inside out from playing internationally.

“One thing that creates it as well as time together is training so when you come together internationally again, to have the benefit of a good November series, a good Six Nations, a good summer tour to Zealand, all that level of cohesion builds and builds and builds and the end goal is to have good 2023 World Cup on the back of our cohesion.

“Yeah, Ireland are in a good place whether it is club cohesion, whether it’s Caelan (Doris), Jack (Conan) and Josh (van der Flier) playing together, a lineout call or a lineout throw, it all important that is for sure.”

 

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