IRB Rugby World Cup
Stuart Lancaster's overseas decision: Short-term pain or long-term gain for England?
Tom Hamilton
May 20, 2015
Steffon Armitage in action
Steffon Armitage in action© David Rogers/Getty Images

Stuart Lancaster believes not picking Top 14-based Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon in the 50-man World Cup training squad will help safeguard the future of the domestic and international English game and lead to a successful legacy in the wake of the forthcoming World Cup.

One of the main narratives leading into Wednesday's World Cup training squad announcement was whether Lancaster would activate the 'exceptional circumstance' clause and bring in the France-based duo. The clause stems from John Steele's days as RFU CEO when he introduced the stipulation England will only pick those based overseas if they are faced by an injury crisis.

A home World Cup is not seen as such an 'exceptional circumstance'. For Lancaster it was a balancing act between short-term gain and long-term reward. Lancaster said: "Not everyone will agree with it [the decision not to pick Abendanon and Armitage] but I'd like to think now at least everyone out there can understand why it is the position.

"We could take a very, very short-term view as a coaching team which ultimately perhaps would give us individually a better chance of being successful but we don't believe that is what our job is.

"Our long-term plan isn't just about 2015. Clearly it is hugely important to us but 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and beyond - we have never had sustained success. We have the first chance now for a long time in my opinion for England to be successful because you look at the group of players and what we have in place in terms of the spirit of the team, the culture, the quality of the players, the number coming through. We don't want to jeopardise that for one thing."

Despite Lancaster's stance on the overseas players, it will continue to be an issue that will rear its head as the World Cup looms ever closer. Success at the World Cup and Lancaster's standpoint will be proven justified; if they fall short it will be vilified. He is aware "there will be a spread of opinion on the situation" but he has taken in the various viewpoints expressed in the media - Sir Clive Woodward has been vociferous in his support of bringing in Abendanon and Armitage - and in the boardrooms.

The Professional Game Board, a group which consists of key stakeholders in the English game, has backed Lancaster's stance and it is also likely to be welcomed by the squad. Tom Wood and Tom Youngs, two senior members of Lancaster's era, have spoken out in the past few weeks saying the sudden inclusion of overseas-based players could have a detrimental effect on morale and on the culture he has instilled. Lancaster agrees with that perspective but has not taken in any of the players' views on the matter.

Stuart Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster© GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images

"It's my decision. The players recognise that and I'm sure would respect it. None of them have come to me.

"If you go back to Leeds in 2012 and I stand in front of a group of players and say 'we want to build a team that is going to commit to winning the World Cup in 2015 and way beyond that. Are you on board?' They say: 'Yes, we're all on board'. That group of players has changed but it is fundamentally still the same. I know how it has evolved because I've been in it from the start.

"I 100 per cent think it is the right system. Our national game and our club game are inter-related. I don't think one can exist without the other. I look at other sports. If the star players weren't playing for their clubs I think we'd struggle to be consistent in Europe. I do think our time will come in Europe because if you look at the quality of the players that we've picked and the age of them, by default we'll get stronger.

"On the flip side if we had a strong club game but a poor international game and no-one wanted to play for their country and it's so difficult to do then you'd fail."

The nightmare scenario for Lancaster will be if captain Chris Robshaw falls over on the eve of the World Cup but the England coach feels they have enough options at openside to step in if needed. Even then, that would not be enough for him to turn to Armitage.

"James Haskell has played the whole of his season at openside and played pretty well. We have Matt Kvesic and Calum Clark, who I think are in the top five in turnovers in the Premiership. I have had a conversation with Steff, Nick Abendanon and Toby Flood, who everyone seems to have forgotten about, very recently to explain the reason behind the decision."

© Tom Hamilton

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