Stuart Lancaster. Ben Brady/INPHO
Tipping Point

Lancaster: English rugby can learn from collaborative Irish structure

The club game in England is currently in the midst of a financial crisis which has seen two top-tier clubs drop out of the Premiership.

STUART LANCASTER BELIEVES the RFU would be well served by moving towards a more collaborative structure between the Test team and club game, following another devasting week for English club rugby.

The club game in England is currently in the midst of a financial crisis which has seen two top-tier clubs drop out of the Premiership since the start of the season. 

On Monday, Wasps became the second Premiership club to be placed into administration in just three weeks, after Worcester suffered a similar fate last month.

“It’s devastating for the game but also for everyone who works in those two organisations, whether that be a player or the physio or a coach, and I know a lot of people at both clubs really well,” said Lancaster.

“We are actually into the season as well and that makes it more upsetting really because it affects the integrity of the competition.”

The Leinster senior coach – who is set to join Racing 92 at the end of the season – spent three and a half years as England head coach before being sacked by the RFU following the 2015 World Cup, initially working his way up the ladder at Leeds Tykes before stepping into the RFU system.

“There is a lot of talk about how to reset the game and I do think they have an amazing opportunity to reset the game now as the club/country agreement between the RFU and the clubs is up in a year’s time,” he continued.

“If you go through my experience; I worked as an Academy manager at a club, I became a head coach at a club in the Premiership, I then ran the Academy system and the Saxons and the age grade teams within England, so I was on the other side of the fence, and then I coached England, so I’ve seen it from every position and I’ve got lots of thoughts on what they can do but it’s probably not my position at the moment to give them.

But I think now is the time for England club and country to work together and not against each other. If they do that they have a chance to build a model that can be successful for sure. For me it has to be about collaboration.

“When I was with England I always wanted to drive the mentality between the clubs and the national team and work together. I wanted the clubs to be successful in England and successful in Europe like I wanted us as a national team to be successful in Six Nations and World Cups.

“That’s the only way to do it. Competing forces is not going to be successful because financially there isn’t the money in the game to operate independently of each other.”

RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, has said “everything is on the table” when it comes to finding a solution for the current crisis, including the introduction of a central contract system similar to the one implemented by the IRFU.

stuart-lancaster-before-the-match Lancaster during his time as England head coach. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Lancaster says his own appreciation for what can be achieved when a union and the clubs are more closely aligned has only grown since he stepped into the Irish system in 2016.

“It has been very good for me as a coach to work in a different system and understand a different system,” he continued.

“I studied the New Zealand system a lot and I was always curious as to why they were so successful. Coming in to Ireland it is very similar with an element of a central structure and a strong provincial structure and control over player payments at academy level.

“All those little things make up an effective model for Ireland and New Zealand and, to be honest, if England can work towards that, that’s my opinion, and then you avoid where we have got to.

“My son plays second tier for Ealing at the moment and there is no reason why that second tier can’t be a competitive breeding ground for young English talent. You have UCD and Trinity playing a good level over here. Why can’t Loughborough or Durham, who are operating with an age bracket of 20-24 years old players, be operating in the second tier alongside your other clubs as well?

“There’s lots of things can be done but it will have to be the tipping point.” 

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