Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Stuart Lancaster's class as coach shown through Freddie Burns' performance

If a coach’s report card is determined by how well he gets the best out of previously misfiring players, then Stuart Lancaster is currently edging towards an A+.

Eyebrows were raised when the England head coach announced he would start Freddie Burns ahead of the in-form Danny Cipriani at fly-half for the first Test against the All Blacks in Auckland.

To say that Burns had an out of sorts season at Gloucester would be an understatement. Low on confidence and high on mistakes, Burns’ dip in form personified the Cherry and Whites’ more general malaise.

There were predictions from some quarters that the All Blacks would be licking their lips at the prospect of targeting England’s midfield, not least because Burns would be partnered by Bath Rugby’s Kyle Eastmond, another player who struggled to win selection for his club towards the end of the season.

What piffle that turned out to be.

Burns and Eastmond were superb, playing with assurance and guile in equal measure. Rather than being the weak link in a weakened England team, they were a potent attacking fulcrum and also solidly controlled the defensive line.

In had been forgotten by many that, only a year ago, Burns and Eastmond wreaked mayhem on England’s tour of Argentina, tearing the Pumas’ backline to pieces. (For proof of Eastmond's potency on that tour, see the video below.) Neither had won a further England cap since that 2013 trip to South America, but when they took to the field at Eden Park on Saturday they carried on from where they had left off in Buenos Aires.

Kyle Eastmond in action in Argentina

Lancaster’s capacity to get the very best out of Burns and Eastmond speaks volumes not only about his on-field training methods but also his psychological preparation of players.

In sport, you are only ever one heavy defeat away from having your bubble burst. But at the moment, England are gaining altitude ahead of the World Cup at a decent rate.