Opinion: time for Gregor Townsend to give Stuart Lancaster a call

Former England supremo has the knowledge and experience to reinvigorate the Scotland team after desperately disappointing World Cup campaign

Could Stuart Lancaster be persuaded to swap his current job with Leinster for a role with Scotland? Image: David Gibson - Fotosportuk
Could Stuart Lancaster be persuaded to swap his current job with Leinster for a role with Scotland? Image: David Gibson - Fotosportuk

IS it just me or does everyone think that Will Greenwood talks more sense than the rest of the English ‘rugby commentariat’ put together?

The one time England centre had an eye-opening column in a weekend paper about the one time England coach Stuart Lancaster. The gist of his column was that Leinster would win the Heineken Cup at least partly thanks to Lancaster and that Eddie Jones should make him an offer he can’t resist

Greenwood referred to Lancaster as “one of life’s truly great people” and pointed out that on his watch Leinster has recently thumped English Premiership leaders Northampton Saints in their own backyard. I don’t want to marginalise the efforts of head coach Leo Cullen and Leinster do benefit from what may be the best youth structure in the world but Lancaster is to be found at the centre of all this Dublin excellence as a multi-talented coach in charge of defence but also attack and, as an ex-flanker, you suspect he has a say in the all-important contact area too.

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Leinster are the polar opposite of Scotland. They are patient and boast set-piece excellence. The team can win more than one way. They are not married to any one doctrine, the ultimate pragmatists. They defend like their lives depend upon it and, most importantly, they don’t pick and choose their games, they bring excellence to every match backing up that big win at Franklins Gardens with another in the return fixture in Dublin one week later. Over the two legs they beat Saints by a combined score of 93-37. Ouch.

If anyone should be picking up the phone to Lancaster it is Gregor Townsend, who has what looks like a career defining Six Nations campaign fast approaching. It is not obvious that Townsend will survive another no-show like his team produced against Ireland in that embarrassing World Cup opener yet. Bizarrely, he has opted to go into this crucial campaign with a forwards coach who has already been effectively sacked, because Danny Wilson will take over from Dave Rennie at Glasgow in the Spring (and I can’t imagine that either Wilson or Glasgow Warrior fans/players are overjoyed at the prospect of this hastily arranged marriage of convenience.)

If that change has to happen it needs to happen now. Today. Not tomorrow. Because Glasgow are going nowhere in the brief time left to Rennie. Composed and defensively stuffy in La Rochelle, the Warriors collapsed like a sand castle at high tide in Saturday’s rematch at Scotstoun. They were flaky and error prone, taking the wrong option far too often.

If Scottish Rugby is to benefit from the expected windfall of CVC money then they need to spend a chunk of it on prising Lancaster out of Dublin. He is exactly the authoritative and pragmatic figure that this Scotland squad needs to counter Gregor Townsend‘s occasional flights of fancy.

Lancaster would demand that defence, his specialist subject in Dublin, is the overriding priority … GET DEFENCE DONE! … because Scotland conceded four tries to Japan (Tier 2) and another four to Ireland during RWC’19. They also conceded an average of 3.5 in the last Six Nations which means that Townsend’s team has to average four tries if they want to win an average match and that is a big ask against the likes of England, Wales and Ireland.

Oh, and now France too since Shaun Edwards has agreed to join Les Blues.

Lancaster was bruised by his experience with the English press post RWC’15 but as Townsend’s sidekick he would be operating largely in the shadows, where you feel he does his best work, and Scotland fans are anyway a less demanding lot than England supporters. Expectation management is not usually a problem up here, more’s the pity.

Furthermore, the former England coach is half Scottish remember, having turned out in dark blue at age-grade level, and Irish papers are hinting that Lancaster has become a little tired with the weekly commute from his home in the North West of England to Dublin and back again.

The demands made on international coaches are quite modest, at least outside of the international window, and you can do video analysis just as well in Leeds as in Murrayfield. Lancaster has tasted Test match rugby as a coach and it would be only natural for him to yearn for a second kick of the ball.

There are two major hurdles still to overcome. The first is Lancaster’s obvious reluctance to give up a good thing at Leinster where the conveyor belt of talent shows no sign of slowing down.

The second is Townsend’s ego and his willingness to compromise and work in tandem with someone who does not agree with every word that the Scot utters, and who has the hinterland, authority and self-belief to fight his corner.

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About Iain Morrison 100 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.


  1. Lancaster signed a 2 year extension with Leinster earlier this year. Perhaps the author could discuss how much we should be prepared to pay to buy that out. Or maybe that the real approximates of playing fantasy rugby.
    One day Mr Morrison will say something positive a kit professional rugby in Scotland instead of his relentless grudge like negativity. I won’t hold my breath for that.

  2. Good shout. Pretty sure he lives in Leeds, rather than NW England, so even quicker to get up on the train to EH12.

    • More than three 30 years back, I refer to another Lancaster! That was that Stuart Lancaster who played one under-19 international for Scotland – in a 29-13 win against Italy at Ayr on 8 April 1989. His club at that time was Wakefield. Indeed, all three English players were in the Scottish pack’s back row – S J Reid Vale of Lune) and D T H Jackson (Wasps) beside that W S Lancaster).

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