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England need Sarries 'gees'

England’s woes in 2011 were more due to a dysfunctional team environment than a lack of talent and if the new coaching team are to turn things around they would do well to try and imitate the spirit – or ‘gees’ as it is known in South Africa – at Saracens.

One look at the senior squad announced by interim England coach Stuart Lancaster and his two assistants Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree will tell you that there are plenty of exciting players with which to build a team, but the major challenge facing the caretakers is surely stamping out the elements that led to so many off-field controversies under Martin Johnson’s management.

The reality of the matter is that England are Six Nations champions and won nine out of 12 Test matches last year, although they were admittedly off the pace at the World Cup when the sideshows started to take centre stage.

So, it seems, one of their main focuses will be breaking with that trend and if Lancaster and his team need pointers on how to create a culture of success they should look no further than the set-up that Premiership champions Saracens have created.

After recently having the opportunity to speak to a few Saracens players on their visit to the Cape last week, the most striking feature was how glowingly they all spoke of the positive environment at the club and how grateful they were to be involved.

One player who has made the most of the unique atmosphere at the London club is prop Matt Stevens, who returned from a ban for using recreational narcotics last year and used the settled base at Saracens to revive his career to secure a place in the England squad once more.

When questioned about the secret to Sarries’ consistency and success in recent times, the South African-born prop pointed immediately to the team spirit at the club.

“I have been very lucky coming into a team like Sarries, the camaraderie or ‘gees’ (as they call it in South Africa) is unbelievable,” he told this website.

Stevens has worked with all three of the coaches in England’s interim Six Nations staff, at various levels of rugby, and he expects them to try and assert themselves on the new-look squad and make a clean break from the ghosts of 2011.

He explained: “It will be interesting to see how they work together, I wouldn’t want to try and predict anything but I think they will bring a lot of energy and draw a line under what has gone on in the past and try and build their own kind of England team.

“That is what it is about, it is about taking ownership for the coach and players as well,” he added.

As Andy Farrell pointed out to this website last week, the new coaching team will not have long at all to develop a positive culture amongst the squad. But if Lancaster and co. are looking for a ready-made template, then implementing the structures at Saracens that have produced such good results both on and off the field may be a shrewd move.

Stevens, who was at the World Cup and has clung to the swaying vessel in the wake of Martin Johnson’s departure, believes that the new management team has what it takes to steer England into calmer waters. He was, however, clear that having a squad who are all pulling in the same direction would be vital.

“We have got to be able to say that this is our team and ultimately the pressure is on us to do well, and England expects so we have all got to go out there with a mission and I am sure they will be steering that well,” he said.

England will get their Six Nations title defence underway against Scotland on February 4 – not giving the new interim coaches an awful amount of time to work their magic ahead of the 2012 tournament.

They could, however, do well to use Saracens’ approach as a starting point.

By Michael de Vries


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