Lancaster 'should get the job'
London - Interim national rugby coach Stuart Lancaster has "dragged England out of the gutter" and should be given the job on a permanent basis, his assistant Graham Rowntree said.
Lancaster will be interviewed for the full-time role this week having led England to second place in the Six Nations championship with four wins, including three on the road.
His chief rival appears to be former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett but scrum coach Rowntree said Lancaster had already done enough to secure the job, not least in restoring the team's morale and reputation after the depressing World Cup last year.
"Stuart has dragged us out of the gutter and deserves all the credit he is going to get," Rowntree told reporters at a Six Nations debrief at Twickenham.
"We failed (at the World Cup) and the whole leaked-reports business was messy. That was only a few weeks ago but we've come light years in a short time."
England returned from the World Cup with their reputation shattered after a series of unedifying incidents off the pitch and some uninspired performances on it, culminating in a quarterfinal defeat by Italy.
A series of "confidential" reports were then leaked to the media, exposing internal divisions and a lack of faith in the coaching team led by Martin Johnson, who resigned soon afterwards.
"A lot has been said about the (new) environment and the players have genuinely bought into that and delivered. They've created that environment on the back of Stuart's culture," Rowntree said.
"It's been fantastic. It's the best I've known as a player and coach. It was better even than the (British and Irish) Lions because we were in such a low place," added Rowntree, the only coaching survivor from England's World Cup campaign and a former player and coach with the Lions.
Rowntree said that there had been a "cracking night" to celebrate Saturday's impressive 30-9 home victory over Ireland but that it had been "tinged with real sadness."
"We all felt as coaches and players an emotional journey was coming to an end and I've never experienced that before as usually you are ready for home," he said.
"Right from the outset, even by the end of the Leeds camp it felt as if we had something special going and then it just grew and grew and for Stuart to achieve that so quickly is special.
"You can't argue with what he's done, culturally, performance-wise, the improvements that have come every week; you just can't argue with that as the perfect interview."
Lancaster, as ever, played down his own influence and said the continuing development of the team was far more important than whether he would remain in place to oversee it.
Desperate to steer the occasion away from a discussion about his job prospects, he produced a slick slideshow of projections, Venn diagrams and mission statements, all geared towards putting England in the best position to win the World Cup on home soil in three years' time.
"I've got a huge pride in what we've done. As a coach who started out in school 20 years ago to do this at the highest level, it's been unbelievable," said.
"There is a strong foundation to build from, whatever happens next.
"That was my role when I was appointed as interim coach. I can't control what happens next but we're in a good place.
"The players have gone back to their clubs now but they are excited about South Africa (where England play three tests in June)."
That tour is the next step in a clearly-defined plan geared towards the next World Cup, with 37 matches to play with until it starts.
Lancaster, who gave seven players their debuts in his opening game against Scotland, produced graphs showing how England averaged 212 caps per game to the near 600 of their Six Nations rivals.
He also showed that the previous four winners of the World Cup averaged 660 caps and unveiled a projected figure of 663 for England by the 2015 final.
Whether he has done enough to convince the Rugby Football Union to see that plan through personally will become clear in the next few weeks but fans leaving Twickenham on Saturday were seemingly united in giving him their support.
Lancaster, who said when he started out that one of his main tasks was to reconnect with the grass roots of the game, was happy to return the compliment.
"It's difficult to gauge when you're in the box concentrating on the game but people came up to me afterwards and said they'd never known an atmosphere like it at Twickenham," he said.
"So that made it even more pleasing that we managed to get the win, after the disappointment of losing to Wales. The crowd deserved it and it was a very special moment."