As England crash out of the World Cup the calls for Stuart Lancaster to resign are ricocheting around Twickenham.
Prior to the Australia pool game where England lost 33-13, former England captain Will Carling had made some stinging comments about Lancaster’s attitude to being the national coach saying he had created a prescriptive, controlling approach. Carling reacted to England’s 28-25 defeat against Wales by accusing Lancaster of creating a “classroom-oriented environment” and treating the players as “schoolboys”.
Even before the 2015 World Cup, some thought the former teacher had an unusually puritanical approach to producing a “good”, “wholesome” team of forthright gentleman. He had an authoritarian need to sack anyone who broke the law or who challenged the boss.
But Lancaster’s ‘controlling’ vision also ruled out the ‘bad boys’ of English rugby. After all, the game isn’t tiddlywinks. The whiter-than-white England team were always going to get destroyed by men (not boys) who had no moral compass, got in night club fights and dived off ferries. Manu Tuilagi had been disciplined and fined £3,000. The centre said: “I’m really sorry. It was a silly thing to do and I apologise to everybody for any inconvenience caused.”
In ‘Jungian’ psychological terms, the team had no ‘shadow’. This meant no ‘dark arts’, no devilish play, no elbows in the opposition’s back, and no tricksters to thwart the defensive line. Lancaster knew nothing of tapping into unconscious forces that might help the team fight to the death. He dropped all these ugly players preferring homoerotic pretty boys.
This was a massive mistake. In reality the head coach produced a team of hard working subservients similar to English football teams who had a style of play based on work ethic and pleasing the Chief. The England football team lost because of their working-class style of play.
Unfortunately, Lancaster’s pompous self-importance inevitably produced this low-brow style. He created a culture of obedience that was never going to beat a cheeky Australian team or a Welsh team who delighted in not playing by the ‘rules’. As we found out with Wales – England folded under pressure as they hadn’t prepared for being unprepared.
At best Lancaster was a deluded gent determined to have a team full of kindly souls to suit the girl next door. But at worst he had developed into what i would term a ‘psychoanalytic’ coach where he ruled by not leading and giving direction but by ‘blank screening’. In theory, this ‘rule of abstinence’ elicits a strong sense of personal responsibility in each player. This sounds good. But it isn’t.
In clinical psychoanalytic treatment, lying on the coach with an analyst who is mute can create an absence of direction leading the way. There is no guidance. The client may become anxious, frustrated and confused, defended and perplexed. This is supposed to bring about new insight into the psyche and how the individual engages in relationships. Essentially, frustrating the client by giving them nothing, can unravel hidden forces that are causing neurosis and even psychosis.
Using a sporting example, a rugby player might play ‘nicely’ to avoid the shitty reality of rugby. He might be afraid of his own hatred of the opposition. A captain might be unaware how his own anxiety is causing confusion among his crew. There may be psychical defences in each player that are made more precarious, and unreal, because of the authoritarian nature of the analyst or sports’ coach.
Moreover, rugby has deeply unconscious archetypal roots where tribes battle for territory and the spoils of war are shared by the victors, This isn’t about a Gradgrindian attitude to of stoic values making morally virtuous players. This doesn’t matter. In sport the goal is to win, not to play well or to get lucky. The players ought to be tricksters, running for the goal like screaming banshees in the midst of chaos.
Lancaster was always The Teacher, ‘developing’ the team and trying out new players and dropping players who had some spunk. Like Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren – dire England football managers – there was a failure to inspire and excite. Instead players were afraid of keeping their place or doing something ‘wrong’.
The problem is that the ‘tabula rasa‘ of such a leader creates discomfort and confusion and this was mapped out on the pitch. Confidence had not been cultivated in the side. For a team to succeed the coach needs to unleash the warrior in each man by providing an environment for this to take place. To allow a sense of ‘creative unknowningness.’ This isn’t about having a culture of paranoia and fear of being castrated by the leader of the pack.
Of course, Stuart Lancaster was the Father of English rugby during this period. But his own superego got in the way as he preferred to dominate rather than unleash his unruly sons. By controlling his squad he failed to unleash them in case they found their own minds and disputed his leadership.
Lancaster’s demand for respect made sure the England team respected their opponents too much. If only the England team revolted against the Father they could have found the brute force to challenge for the World Cup.