The 2015 World Cup has finished; it was a mess, and an utter embarrassment for hosts, England. The trust English fans had the national squad sunk as low as it has done to English football following countless humiliations at international tournaments.
However, where the football differentiated from the rugby was the collective blame managers and players have taken for such failure. Be it, Fabio Capello or Roy Hodgson, all men in the hot seat got just as much as a public grilling as the players.
Yet, with the dismal showing in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, there were two scapegoats; two scapegoats who took 90% of the blame, and still do to this day. They are, of course, head coach, Stuart Lancaster and rugby union’s most wanted, Sam Burgess.
— City A.M. (@CityAM) November 3, 2016
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and, naturally, with it, everyone realised that the selection of Burgess in midfield was a massive error on behalf of Lancaster. However, was it the sole reason to blame for such a poor World Cup campaign?
Rob Andrew, a former director at the RFU, has continued to place blame on the Lancaster-Burgess combo with a recent attack on his former colleague at the RFU:
“If there was a problem team-wise in the run-up to the 2015 World Cup, a selectorial Achilles’ heel, it was to be found in midfield. Try as he might, Stuart Lancaster could not settle on an optimum configuration. Which is where Sam Burgess came in, and where things went horribly wrong.
“I would not even begin to pin the blame for our embarrassing World Cup misfire on a single player, but the kerfuffle around the introduction of Burgess was undeniably the tipping point.
“To this day, I simply do not understand the thinking behind the fast-tracking of a player from international rugby league to international rugby union when so many of the things that had made him wildly successful in the 13-man game were of questionable relevance in the 15-man version.”
Rob Andrew, extract from ‘The Game of My Life: Battling for England in the Professional Era’, written in the Telegraph
The continual character assassination on Lancaster is an unnecessary attempt to bring back to life a tournament that should be confined to the history books; why bring something up that has zero relevance, and the main victim of the whole event has already had the final nail hammered down in his own metaphoric coffin?
Although Lancaster’s selection was wrong, and ultimately he should shoulder much of the failure, there is also an argument that selecting Burgess wasn’t the main reason for such a mess of a World Cup – it only seemed that way because it’s an easy scapegoat.
Why does Rob Andrew fail to remember that England were leading Wales until Burgess was substituted? The substitution of Burgess is when things went to pot, which also involved a horrific captain’s call from Chris Robshaw which could have, with the benefit of hindsight, got England over the line.
— ESPN Scrum (@espnscrum) December 24, 2015
Following that Wales game, England’s annihilation at the hands of the Wallabies was also a game in which Burgess only played 15 minutes; the midfield was a mess with, or without the then-Bath at the time.
Lancaster’s legacy in rugby will no doubt be remembered for this failed World Cup, and it will continually be remembered in this manner because of people like Andrew reminding everyone of it.
But, what about guiding England to one of their greatest victories over the All Blacks in 2012? Or, what about, at the time of his exit, having the second-highest winning ratio – only behind the great Sir Clive Woodward? Even four consecutive runners-up places in the Six Nations pointed towards a coach who was rebuilding after the mess that was the 2011 World Cup under Martin Johnson.
This is not to completely defend Lancaster for what was a horrible moment within English rugby, and ultimately, he was always going to be in the firing line. But, to continue to keep him in the firing line two years on from the event, seems an unnecessary, and on occasion, inaccurate conclusion from what was one of England rugby’s darkest hours.