Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Lancaster keeping calm and carrying on to cup

England coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo / AP
England coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo / AP

Beating the All Blacks at your first attempt is a rare feat.

The victory hubbub around Twickenham in late 2012 soaked into the media conferences but Stuart Lancaster, the new England coach, was about the most composed person in the room.

It was a serious result for England at home, a massive stimulus for the players, their new coach and the boisterous supporters who had waited a decade to see such a result.

Lancaster must have been as keyed up as some of the hometown fourth estate but he stayed grounded, gracious and balanced in the face of a cluster of leading inquiries.

That rational perspective helped him deal with England's narrow loss to the All Blacks last year as they toiled towards the ultimate goal of a strong performance at the 2015 World Cup.

That balance has stayed with the 44-year-old Lancaster as he and England worked through the Six Nations from a narrow opening loss to France to wins against Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy.

He was cautious when asked if England were on track for Webb Ellis success next year.

Lancaster liked the progress his squad was making and thought they would be strong rivals in another litmus test with the All Blacks here in June.

"The New Zealand tour will be a big test for us, as will next season's autumn internationals and the Six Nations, so we won't get carried away but we feel we're making good progress," he said.

England will be without Premiership final players for the first test at Eden Park but that did not reduce Lancaster's belief in his squad.

He needs to build that confidence in every part of his squad as they set themselves for their Pool of Death where they are in the same section as the Wallabies and Wales at the World Cup.

England bludgeoned and danced past Wales this year at Twickenham as the visitors failed to deliver the power and grace which thumped England a year ago and delivered stacks of their men to the Lions touring squad.

There is a vibrant tread about England as Lancaster finds men who can deliver his 15-man philosophy in a template which suits his squad.

Since he made the senior coaching ranks with Leeds in 2006, Lancaster has concentrated on getting his players to understand all the elements needed at the highest levels of the game. He demands physical excellence and players who grasp the tactical and technical levels.

He picks men who work hard and have self-belief and self-control.

During the Six Nations, England had some limitations on the wing, second five-eighth, openside flanker and tighthead prop but should have men such as Manu Tuilagi, Christian Wade, Tom Croft, Alex Corbisiero and perhaps Dan Cole healthy once more for the New Zealand visit in June.

Men such as Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Billy Vunipola give grunt to the pack and Danny Care, Owen Farrell, Luther Burrell and Mike Brown bring bite and substance to the backline.

They are men who have the same vision as Lancaster and are starting to nail some compelling confidence to that concept.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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