Lancaster has no time for nostalgia
October 1, 2012
As impressive Nick Easter's form of late it appears England head coach Stuart Lancaster does not believe he can sustain that level of performance all the way to the 2015 Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
There's a great scene in Mad Men, one of many in a series that can lay claim to a ridiculously consistent level of excellence to rival that of the All Blacks, where the effortlessly cool ad man Don Draper pitches a campaign to Kodak based on their slideshow projector.
His awe-inspiring and heart-tugging turn famously hails the device as a 'time machine' that 'takes us to a place that we ache to go again... a place where we know are loved'. It is a sentiment that got me thinking on first airing and again more recently when a welcome re-run of this piece of TV gold coincided with reports pushing Nick Easter's claims for an England return.
The Quins No.8 was cast into the international wilderness in the wake of last year's Rugby World Cup with England, under new coach Stuart Lancaster, keen to draw a line under their flawed assault on the sport's biggest prize and put the foundations in place for a side that could challenge for the title on home soil in 2015.
Easter did not fit into those plans but he has refused to announce his international retirement and has produced a sparkling run of form in the ensuing months that not only helped Quins capture the Premiership crown but also had fans and scribes urging Lancaster into a re-think. But those supporters are guilty of wallowing in the past and using the here and now as indicator of what could be in the future rather than dreaming bigger and better.
The cold harsh truth is that he will be 37-years-old by the time the next World Cup kicks off and while the likes of Brad Thorn (36), Os du Randt (35) and Jason Leonard (35) also had plenty of miles on the clock when they tasted World Cup glory, none were as old as Easter will be or played in the pivotal and lung-busting position at the back of the scrum. The logic behind Lancaster's decision is clear and when it comes to leveraging your best-ever chance for World Cup glory there is no room for emotion.
Easter may well be the best No.8 in the country at the moment but it is not about beating Fiji in the opening international or taking the scalps of Australia, South Africa or New Zealand next month it is about being in the best possible position to win the World Cup next time around. Lancaster also appears to have little time for the possible rankings boost on offer that may in turn hand his side a preferable draw when pools are announced later this year with his promise to look at his squad options in the autumn echoing his belief that you are going to have to beat the best sides at some stage in the World Cup.
There is also no guarantee and little chance Easter will be that same player three more seasons down the track even without that added burden of international rugby and Lancaster may also be wary that England arguably carried too many seasoned internationals within their last World Cup squad.
Even if Easter were to still possess such a calling card in a couple of years' time, it may not be enough to appease Lancaster whose publically-stated quest for world-class players who are among 'the best two or three in their position in the world', and who also offer a little bit of 'stardust', being the over-riding selection criteria and one hurdle that Easter and many other World Cup hopefuls will fail to clear.
Lancaster is clearly prepared to gamble to an extent going by the exposure of fresh faces since the start of his tenure but the same luxury does not extend to those players at the other end of the age spectrum. It is a bold approach and the England boss should be applauded for his bravery and his determination to do it his way and resist the temptation to turn back the clock and go with the tried and test. He has an unrivalled talent pool and financial resources at his disposal so a safe bet or second best should never be acceptable.
The infectious Lancaster set his stall out as soon as he was handed the reins on a full-time basis and to suggest he is prepared to change a policy that is at the heart of his coaching philosophy and which was also a key factor in convincing the Rugby Football Union that he was the man to spearhead arguably the most important period in the history of English rugby is misguided.
"We have 37 games before that first World Cup match on home soil," he declared on his appointment, "so every second counts in developing players who can win that tournament - which has to be the ultimate aim."
Nick Easter's days in an England shirt look well and truly numbered © Getty Images
As a result every game between now and then is a stepping stone and priceless hothouse for Lancaster's hopes and dreams. No opportunity can be wasted and that countdown has since intensified following a valuable three-match series against South Africa that provided plenty of questions and answers with the forthcoming end-of-year internationals set to be another key testing ground. Expect changes throughout a testing autumn campaign as he explores his options and patches up a side that is sure to take a battering at the hands of the southern hemisphere's finest.
Add in the fact that Lancaster has given his charges a year to get up to speed and there is clearly even less time to flirt with the past while contemplating the future. Lancaster has set his sights on a place in the top two of the IRB World Rankings by the end of next year with the aim of cementing their status between that point and the start of the World Cup. "We've one year left to get things up to speed," he said on the eve of the new domestic season. "That will be the end of the development stage and the start of our countdown to the World Cup. I'd like two years of a settled team."
That leaves Easter clutching at straws and relying on a Wallabies-esque injury plague to sideline the likes of Gloucester's Ben Morgan (23), Leicester's Thomas Waldrom (29) and maybe even the recently-qualified Ernst Joubert (32) at Saracens just to get a chance to prove his worth and convince the powers that be of his longevity. And even then, any such promotion would likely be temporary given Lancaster's desire to plot a fresh course for the national side.
Easter's influence on England's fortunes look set to be restricted to the Premiership and Heineken Cup stage where he will no doubt continue to be a benchmark for No.8's with higher aspirations but as far as international rugby is concerned he appears to be stuck in the past on a never-ending carousel.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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