This time last year Stuart Lancaster had not long been appointed as the “interim” England coach, with many questioning whether he was the right man to restore the team’s tarnished reputation.
But 12 months on the former boss of the reserve England Saxons arrived at the launch for the 2013 Six Nations as one of a select group of England coaches to have overseen a win over New Zealand and with the word “interim” obliterated from his job title.
Lancaster first restored the faith of an England rugby public, unimpressed by the team’s drinking exploits during a 2011 World Cup in New Zealand where England went out tamely in the quarter-finals to France, with his back-to-basics approach that yielded a runners-up spot in the Six Nations and a record three away wins.
Then came a tour of South Africa where England lost the first two Tests of a three-match series but drew the last.
However, home defeats by Australia and South Africa in November appeared to suggest England, the 2015 World Cup hosts, were still a work in progress.
But Lancaster never lost faith and was rewarded when England finished the year with a stunning 38-21 win over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in December – their biggest margin of victory against the All Blacks.
Even more impressive was that having had their 15-0 lead cut to a point at just 15-14 in the second half, England rallied to score three tries.
Now Lancaster, whose career as England coach started with a Six Nations win away to Scotland, is preparing a side strongly favoured to beat their oldest rivals when they meet at Twickenham for this season’s Calcutta Cup opener on February 2.
“I’d like to think we did deliver a change,” said Lancaster, speaking at the Six Nations launch in London on Wednesday.
“This time last year I was sat here as interim coach and on the back of the World Cup we made 15 changes. Seven players got their first caps against Scotland, we had a new captain (Chris Robshaw).
“The most important thing for me was to get that culture right and the reason why playing for England is special.”
He added: “We’ve not won every game but we haven’t been smashed in any of them and we’ve always been competitive.
“The trick now is to build on that All Black performance and get the consistency we need to win at the highest level and no better place to prove yourself than the Six Nations.”
Robshaw is eager to back up England’s display against New Zealand.
“We felt there was an improvement in every game in November, our attack was taking better shape, our defence was getting there,” he said.
“In the New Zealand game it started to click and now it’s about kicking on.”