By Alan Dymock
SUCCESS IS a powerful force. Like a riptide it can carry you away, making it impossible to consider any other elements while you swim against the puissant pull of the moment. When it stops, though, and you finally urge your head above water, you realise that you are miles from the point you thought you would be at.
Stuart Lancaster is not stranded.
However, after months of trying to play down the chances of his England side after shellacking the All Blacks and stringing three very good Six Nations victories together, he was ultimately swimming against the tide. Losing a title on the last day would rankle more than most but such was the manner of the defeat to Wales at the Millennium Stadium there is near palpable hurt rippling through England rugby fraternity.
However grounded Lancaster tried to make his team appear and however impressive he made the opposition sound, it would always stand in stark contrast to the reality that is still so fresh in the mind.
He would never stand up and scream it – every public engagement is expertly choreographed by the English management, one of the hallmarks of this progressive regime – but privately, surely he must want to state the obvious: England have two years coming up that are more important than this solitary, albeit, chastening loss.
In some senses the feeling of being lost and exposed at the Millennium Stadium, with the elements whipping up around them almost as harshly as the Welsh players scratching towards the line and with the crowd stifling them with song, will be filed under ‘Experiences To Learn From’ in the Lancaster files.
Rugby works in cycles. This is not to say that you must kill off the remnants of systems gone by like some sort of withered husk. Experience is valuable and whether or not faces fit as well as they used to, keeping them around will not turn Twickenham into a vespiary. However, you must appreciate that at certain periods you must look to the end of the cycle rather than the interim periods.
So Stuart Lancaster will have time to think. He will be glad of it. He will not be haunted by a crippling failure because although it stings, he is ahead of schedule. Lancaster is the type of man who works to schedules. He worked hard to get where he is and so appreciates the minutiae of every step; the slavish attention to detail may be dull, but it is necessary and Lancaster at least fosters the image that he is in love with all elements of role, so lovingly detailed in his A4 black diary.
It may sound like this man is being painted as some genius, capable of anything given time. Such notions have never truly been voiced. Yet when he was first under pressure as England coach some waited and he pulled off the victory against New Zealand. Because of that he has been afforded more time and almost won a Grand Slam. In truth, the end of his cycle is the World Cup in England, so even then he will not seriously be wanting to peak until closer to that time.
So he will rest. The Six Nations brouhaha will subside and he will slip back close to home to plan ahead.
The best thing for England would be if Lancaster is afforded the luxury to do this, rather than making him stroke to get there. He must also convince himself to see this break through. Put Team England on standby for now and jolt it back to life in time for the summer tour.
England and Lancaster have worked hard and the disappointment, though not as crushing as some would think, will be just another spur as England jet off to Argentina, the next lap of their swim towards World Cup 2015.