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Time for more positivity from Lancaster's troops; England head coach Stuart Lancaster issues instructions at a training session in Bagshot > RUGBY TALK BRIAN DICK.

STUART Lancaster has done well so far. Since replacing Martin Johnson he has recovered much of the ground lost under the his predecessor's misguided reign.

The England team has reconnected with its' public, wearing the Red Rose is once again something players strive for rather than take for granted and the leadership's capacity for self-delusion has been almost completely eradicated.

The Cumbrian is an outstanding manager, a superb communicator and has a clear vision of where he wants to take England. He is a very likeable human being who oozes integrity.

He has also won some important matches and overseen some excellent performances, though no-one is pretending a win percentage of 66 per cent is anything out of the ordinary.

It might be a whole 11 points better off than Johnson's, but with the richest rugby infrastructure in the world England should rarely be beaten - and almost never at home.

Yet Lancaster's tenure has reached a critical juncture. England's Six Nations campaign, the penultimate one before Rugby World Cup 2015, starts in Paris on Saturday and continues over the next six weeks. The time for his team's tactical progression to catch up with their cultural development has arrived.

The pride, passion and traditional English strengths based around a solid set-piece have been expertly restored but more is now required.

England have to demonstrate an understanding and mastery of the breakdown that has hitherto been fleeting, they have to show genuine understanding down the spine of the side - the 8, 9, 10, 12 axis has to operate like a well-oiled machine. But most of all they need to display some ambition, a more positive attitude to their risk-reward ratio.

They can do it, who will ever forget December 1, 2012 when they battered the All Blacks 38-21 by daring to commit numbers to the ruck and split the world champions asunder out wide. They have to return to that Cumbria-themed outlook: 'Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers won't drown'. In coaching speak 'Back yourselves'. And this is where so much rests on what Lancaster and his backs coach Andy Farrell tell their key decision-makers. How long does Billy Vunipola keep the ball in the scrum? Where does Owen Farrell line-up? What does Billy Twelvetrees do with first phase possession? These are the key areas where England have to be more ambitious.

Of course it all starts with the weather and the set-piece. Those outside Lancaster's squad mustn't confuse ambition with aimless ballslinging.

If the conditions don't favour moving it wide or lining up with big gaps between the centres, then it would be stupid to do so.

But given a relatively dry ball and decent pitch England simply must look to create and exploit width and that begins with the set-piece where Joe Marler has to become the dominant scrummaging loosehead his legions of media-champions falsely claim he already is.

At this stage of their respective international careers the injured Alex Corbisiero is way ahead of the Harlequins prop but Marler has the chance to close the gap, though he will have his hands full with the rumbustious Nicolas Mas this weekend. With the weather and the ballquality Farrell must not stand so deep because that ripples down the entire backline to the point where the openside wing is 25-30m behind the gain-line. That also makes it hard for Twelvetrees at inside centre to make the breaks that put him in the England side in the first place.

Playing flatter, closer to the defensive fire, Farrell would create the required milliseconds of doubt that could result in space out wide.

Which brings us to the outside centre position where the recent paucity of England's attacking has shown how much they miss the powerful yet relatively-limited Manu Tuilagi. Northampton's Luther Burrell will be given the chance to fill the void and he too must dare to dream.

Burrell has made massive strides at Saints this year with his hard running and some decent off-loads. Lancaster must indulge him the chance of making errors in the pursuit of game-changing contributions. If not then it won't matter who is standing out on the wing, they will be reduced to glorified kick-chasers.

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England head coach Stuart Lancaster issues instructions at a training session in Bagshot
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 30, 2014
Words:713
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