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No hiding places for England's Stuart Lancaster after disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign

Credit: PA

Say what you like about Stuart Lancaster but he doesn’t hide.

He has said “sorry” more in the past 24 hours than Elton John has sung the word in his entire career.

And he means it, you can tell.

Yesterday at England’s multi-million pound Pennyhill Park base he came to confront the inevitable.

Presumably Lancaster hadn’t slept much - he looked broken. He admitted when he arrived, he’d just finished watching a repeat of the horror show that may end up defining his professional career. If you’re looking for a definition of masochism, there it is.

Like Roy Hodgson, his football counterpart, he is liked by those tasked to give him a hard time on occasions like this and like Hodgson, Lancaster failed to steer England out of its group on the biggest stage of all.

England have slipped down the rankings since the start of the RWC. Credit: World Rugby

At his first media conference after Australia consigned him to the pages of rugby’s ‘horrible histories’, he was afforded some grace – the kind Hodgson enjoyed but Fabio Capello never did.

“Where did it all go wrong? What regrets do you have? What changes are needed?” and in many guises, many times “Shouldn’t you resign?”

These predictable arrows were easily deflected yesterday because England still has a game to play; their tournament has another week to run.

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This tournament was England's worst ever World Cup run. Credit: PA

England's 'fall from grace' since winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003

2003
Winners
2007
Losing Finalists
2011
Quarter Finalists
2015
Failed to exit group stages

It may get a little more uncomfortable for Lancaster if cracks in a disgruntled and fractured squad start to show.

Might a review into England's campaign reveal divisions in the group? Credit: PA

I’m not saying England is divided, but it would be remarkable if among 31 players, all now tainted, there weren’t tensions or cliques. I have witnessed it in international cricket and in football in recent times and it’s destructive.

Remember in this Red Rose set-up you have a senior coach whose son was unexpectedly elevated midway through England’s short stay in the tournament. You hear murmurings that another player, Sam Burgess, the very recent rugby league convert, has not convinced everyone he trains alongside.

His hurried inclusion may well have been the catalyst to mild resentment, an emotion that if it existed probably strengthened given Burgess’ one dimensional performances during the tournament.

Some feel that - while a supreme athlete - Burgess was too green for this campaign. Credit: PA

It is this midfield conundrum that has made Lancaster look at best unsure, at worst weak.

Whatever the truth, his chopping and changing in this area appears out of character for a man who values consistency and loyalty and believes every test match someone plays, makes them more valuable.

When he first took the job just over three years ago Lancaster pointed out that World Cups are not won by youngsters but teams who can boast a high number of combined caps.

If Lancaster is convinced by that philosophy then, injury not withstanding, why mess around with his key combinations so often?

Luther Burrell missed out to Sam Burgess - but why? Credit: PA

Why for example dump Luther Burrell for new recruit Slammin’ Sam when his club - Bath - doesn’t even think Burgess is good enough to play for them in his England position?

Why build your back division around George Ford ahead of the tournament, with some success, and then change your mind after just one game?

There are many ‘whys?’ and I’m pretty sure we’re yet to uncover the real truth about, or understand the exact fall-out from, all of them.

So where does this leave us?

The English scrum is no longer feared by opposition. Credit: PA

If you apply strict liability then Stuart Lancaster should go. So should his captain and so should his coaches. England’s traditional strengths at the set-piece were found wanting against Australia and in truth have been showing signs of vulnerability for a while.

But it wasn’t the Australia game that killed England, it was Wales. And that is more worrying.

Australia were outstanding at Twickenham and may well push the All Blacks all the way in this tournament. Wales were on the canvas but Lancaster’s England failed to keep them there.

Why? Naivety and lack of leadership must play their part. You might deduce it is a trait carried by Lancaster’s England, that failure and countless second places in the 6 nations are testament to that.

Where is the killer instinct when it’s needed; where are the winners, where was the ruthlessness when it really counted?

Change in the England camp is needed, but should Lancaster go? Credit: PA

It sounds unworthy of a headline, but presuming he doesn’t decide he’s had enough anyway, sacking Lancaster is not necessarily the panacea.

Of course there needs to be change; you can’t ignore the slow motion car crash that’s just played out in front of millions of eyes and not tackle those accountable.

You also can’t ignore the fact that England is the best resourced squad, picking from the biggest pool of players.

But unless you believe radical life-saving surgery is the only solution and there is an exceptional surgeon waiting in the wings, then if his heart is in it, why not give Lancaster a second chance.

A final chance to prove that he and his squad can learn from their mistakes; calamitous though they undoubtedly were.

Hardly revolutionary but then sometimes the best solutions aren’t.

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