By Alex Shaw
It’s fair to say that Stuart Lancaster has kept himself busy since he parted ways with England at the conclusion of last year’s Rugby World Cup
He spent time with the Stormers in the build-up to the 2016 Super Rugby season, acting in an advisory role, before reports surfaced that he was actively looking for a coaching position in the southern hemisphere. He was subsequently linked with the vacant positions at the Reds and Western Force, as well as the Japanese national team, but with the Force job the only one of the three still available and Lancaster’s name reportedly not on their shortlist, his hopes of landing a Super Rugby job seem slim.
More recently, Lancaster has been helping out at the Atlanta Falcons in the National Football League (NFL), working on them with their tackling. His expertise was highly valued by the Falcons, whilst his work developing England’s age-grade structures (prior to his role as England coach) has seen him invited to share his experiences and techniques with the Football Association (FA).
His desire to coach in the southern hemisphere has been well documented and would certainly further diversify his already impressive CV, but the perfect position for him may have recently arisen a little closer to home.
Worcester Warriors and Dean Ryan parted ways at the end of June, with Ryan going on to become Head of International Player Development at the RFU, and the club has decided not to immediately hire a new director of rugby, instead trusting head coach Carl Hogg and high performance director Nick Johnston with increased responsibilities for the 2016/17 season.
Warriors chief executive Jim O’Toole may be reluctant to hire a new director of rugby this close to the start of the season and risk significant disruption to his squad but Lancaster must surely be a name on his mind moving forward.
Lancaster’s track record of identifying talent and developing players is well known and with a senior academy crop that were well represented in England’s U20 Junior Championship winning squad this summer, not to mention an U18 side that performed very impressively in the Aviva Academy League last season, there is plenty to work with over the coming years at Sixways.
Speaking of Sixways, the stadium has just been implemented with a new artificial grass pitch. This should allow Worcester to play a more expansive style of rugby throughout the season, a trait that aligns well with Lancaster’s rugby philosophy. He was adamant as England coach about playing a New Zealand-esque style of rugby and whilst that saw England’s traditional set-piece strengths wither a little, it’s a move that many Aviva Premiership clubs have been trying to make over recent years.
Leicester Tigers snapped up Aaron Mauger, Bath have lured Todd Blackadder and Wasps are working with one of the brightest attacking minds around in Lee Blackett. If Richard Cockerill‘s Leicester, of all English teams, are looking to put speed and width on the ball, then you know times are changing in the Premiership.
This scramble for coaches who can not only improve a club’s attacking fortune but also impart their philosophy and – dare we say it – culture, should not go unnoticed. The Tom Coventry experiment at London Irish may not have worked last season but that doesn’t mean that teams in the bottom half of the Premiership table shouldn’t be looking to bring on board coaching personnel who can help them make the transition to being a more proficient attacking side and Lancaster is certainly a man in that mould.
Then, of course, there is the inevitable media attention. Wherever Lancaster does eventually lay his hat, he is, as a former England coach, going to be a magnet for the press. Coaching at Worcester, rather than say the until recently vacant positions at Bath or Harlequins, should allow him to avoid some of the media glare that he would have otherwise had to put up with at those more established Premiership clubs. Expectations are lower at Worcester, who are only entering their second season in the Premiership following a stint in the Greene King IPA Championship, and keeping clear of relegation is the achievable and not overly newsworthy goal in the short-term.
The likes of Francois Hougaard, Ben Te’o, Bryce Heem and Chris Pennell populate the club’s back line and Worcester have the firepower to be an attacking force in the Premiership, something which Lancaster would certainly push forward as he attempts to harness the considerable talents of those players. Granted, it’s not a squad capable of launching a playoff push just yet or perhaps even competing for a Champions Cup qualification spot, but it is one that is on the up and would undoubtedly be an enticing project to be involved with for Lancaster.
With a young English core waiting to be developed, a club eager to improve their attacking fortunes – not to mention happy to bankroll it – and being closeted away from the harshest of the media’s glare in the West Midlands, Lancaster and Worcester feel like a match made in heaven.
Worcester will likely stay the course and enter the season under the stewardship of Hogg and Johnston and without a director of rugby, but Lancaster should be right at the top of their shortlist of potential acquisitions should they decide to fill the position vacated by Ryan earlier this year.
The former England supremo has a wealth of knowledge at his disposal and has shone previously in overseer roles, where he has implemented his vision over a number of years. It would be a shame for English rugby to lose a man of his experience, and with an ascending coach like Hogg already instilled at Worcester, taking the hands-on coaching emphasis off of Lancaster’s shoulders, he could dovetail perfectly with the status quo at the club.