Brian Ashton praises England interim coach Stuart Lancaster

Brian Ashton
Brian Ashton

Former England coach Brian Ashton has praised the positive impact of interim boss Stuart Lancaster.

Ashton, who led England between 2006 and 2008, believes Lancaster has enhanced his reputation since taking over from Martin Johnson.

"He's made a very impressive impact on the England squad," said Ashton.

"Could anyone have done a better job in these three weeks than Stuart's done? He's done almost everything everyone asked of him."

Former England Saxons coach Lancaster was handed the reins for the senior squad's Six Nations campaign by the Rugby Football Union in December, after Johnson quit as head coach in November following a miserable World Cup campaign.

The 42-year-old has made sweeping changes from the England side that made a quarter-final exit to France, handing international debuts to eight players in a much-changed squad led by new captain Chris Robshaw.

The new-look side started Lancaster's regime with their first win at Murrayfield in eight years against Scotland before a hard-fought 19-15 success in Italy.

Then, with seven players making their Twickenham bow, they earned many plaudits for a plucky display in Saturday's controversial 19-12 defeat against strong favourites Wales.

"He's been put in a very unfortunate position," said Ashton. "To have an interim coach job for five games must be incredibly difficult.

"But England have shown a lot of progress. They won two banana skin games away from home and almost beat what was a pretty rampant Wales team before Saturday.

"He's obviously decided first of all to toughen up and return to the basics of work ethic and discipline to try to build up the team spirit.

"He's sorted out the defence and set pieces and now, as he said he would do, in the third game against Wales, England showed a little bit more ambition and willingness and freedom to play with the ball in hand. So far, he's kept to his word."

Former Bath coach Ashton has also warned RFU bosses that they must pick the right man, and not necessarily the highest profile, as Johnson's permanent successor. And he has offered to help provide some insight into the fundamentals of the role.

"I hope they take the advice of some people who actually know what the job entails," said the 65-year-old. "And, if they are they haven't spoken to me about it.

"If they're just looking to appoint a big name then I think they're probably going down the wrong route.

"They need to appoint someone with a clear vision of where England need to go for the next four years.

"I would imagine Stuart Lancaster has got a clearer vision than anyone else at the moment. Translating that vision into reality is the job of the coach and so far he's not done a bad job."

Meanwhile, former England winger Mark Cueto has labelled calls for Northampton's Chris Ashton to be dropped from Lancaster's starting XV as "ridiculous".

"He is one of the best wingers in the country," Cueto told BBC Radio 5 live. "I don't think he is particularly out of form.

"He is just not getting the opportunities and he is getting frustrated.

"He has not done anything wrong, ultimately, and to pick someone out like that is just ridiculous."