Stuart Lancaster’s reign as England head coach may have come to a disappointing conclusion last year, however he still has plenty to offer the game.
Given the way England faltered at the Rugby World Cup, becoming the first host nation to exit in the group stages, it’s hard to imagine the international coaching offers are flooding in. That being said, there is one upcoming vacancy that would be the ideal fit for Lancaster who still has plenty to offer.
Jacques Brunel is set to step down as the Italian head coach this summer, and whilst it is expected Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea will take the role, Italy could do a lot worse than speaking to Lancaster.
Currently, one of the biggest issues facing Italy is the lack of talent coming through the ranks. They have a raft of star players in the likes of Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni who are unlikely to still be around for the next World Cup in 2019, with no viable replacements seemingly coming through.
The most important part of Stuart Lancaster’s legacy with England is currently beginning to bear fruit as a number of talented youngsters continue to add to their already impressive caps tally. Under Lancaster, the likes of Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, George Ford and Billy Vunipola were all brought through into the first team, and given the opportunity to flourish.
Whilst Brunel has begun this rebuilding phase with Italy, blooding a few young stars in recent years like centre Michele Campagnaro, and more recently fly half Carlo Cana, there is still a long way to go before they have the depth of talent necessary to regularly compete at the top level.
Compare this to England where there are multiple players, all capable of stepping in should injuries strike. Now obviously England have a much deeper talent pool to draw from, but there is no reason the Italians can’t build a bit more strength in depth, especially when planning for the next World Cup and beyond.
It is also important to assess the two teams relevant goals. Whereas England must constantly be reaching the latter rounds of the World Cup, and challenging for the Six Nations title year on year, Italy’s targets, at least at this stage, are much more modest. This means Lancaster would be able to focus on building development pathways like he did so well with England, without the unnecessary pressure of expectation every year.
Given time to build a squad with genuine depth, Lancaster could be the ideal man to help get Italy back on track seeing as how they have stumbled badly in recent years. Their narrow loss to France last week has only served to mask a number of key issues surrounding the team, with native Australians and South Sea Islanders drafted in ahead of local players on residency rules to plug the increasing number of gaps in the team.
Should Italy take the long-term view however and follow a similar development path to Argentina who are now seeing the dividends of their longer term growth strategy, they could become a force in both the Six Nations and Pro12. Whilst I have no doubt that O’Shea would be a fine acquisition, and do a great job with Italy’s limited resources, I can’t help but feel that Lancaster might be the better long term appointment.