Lancaster rejects subs criticism

Hampshire Chronicle: Stuart Lancaster has dismissed criticisms of his use of substitutes against France Stuart Lancaster has dismissed criticisms of his use of substitutes against France

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has rejected criticism of his use of replacements in Saturday's 26-24 RBS 6 Nations defeat by France as misguided.

Only prop Henry Thomas remained on the bench at the final whistle of a chaotic but thrilling Paris showdown with the 62nd minute departure of outstanding scrum-half Danny Care attracting greatest scrutiny.

Sir Clive Woodward, one of Lancaster's predecessors as England head coach, blamed the replacement strategy for the defeat.

"The substitutions cost England the game and that responsibility falls on the management not the players," Woodward told the Daily Mail.

"There were fundamental coaching errors, the players did not deserve it and it is time to wise up."

The lack of specialist fly-half cover for Owen Farrell at the Stade de France has also been highlighted, but a defiant Lancaster regards England's abysmal start as the reason for their downfall.

"We're debating the wrong points here, in my honest opinion. I think you're wasting your time on this," said Lancaster, who insisted that substitutions are not pre-planned.

"I don't think the replacements were the reason we lost the game. I was certainly pleased with the impact all the substitutes made.

"The biggest reason we lost the game was the start more than anything else. To be 16-3 down is one hell of a mountain to climb in that arena.

"The debate about replacements is not one we're having internally within the squad.

"We have a squad of 23 trusted players - we win together and we lose together. That's the way it is."

A frantic Six Nations opener at the Stade de France produced a ball in play statistic of 46 minutes, eight minutes longer than in last autumn's 30-22 defeat to New Zealand.

The average ball in play figure for the 2011 World Cup was 35 minutes and the highest 44 minutes, underlining the demands of Saturday's title clash.

"You want the players to go flat-out for the whole game. You can't conserve energy in an international game," Lancaster said.

"You have to go flat-out from minute one to minute 80. The players and coaches respect the decisions that are made, which are done for the good of the team.

"You've got to trust your bench. You can't have a pre-determined plan."

Lancaster's forceful response to his critics perhaps has its roots in the frustration that a strong performance, particularly in attack, has been overshadowed by the debate over his use of replacements.

Farrell, Jack Nowell and Tom Wood were struck by cramp in the second half, hindering England's ability to defend the 24-19 lead they established after drawing on all their reserves of character.

"The amount of cramping was a reflection of the game. It was a match played at the highest intensity - the longest in duration in my time," Lancaster said.

"It's a significant step up for a lot of players on what they do week in week out at their clubs, or even in Europe.

"It's something we need to review and look at. If here's anything we can do to prevent, we're doing it."

England begin the process of relaunching their title push when they face Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday and Lancaster will continue with his existing policy of using his bench.

"I'll make the substitutions next weekend the way I have always done, based on my intuition and the way I see the game unfolding," he said.

Lancaster indicated that changes for Murrayfield are unlikely as England seek an immediate response to an agonising late defeat at the Stade de France.

"There's a lot of disappointment and frustration having put ourselves in a position to beat France. It's important we get a reaction," he said.

"It was a really devastating defeat. It's such a tough place to go and win and, having put ourselves in the position to do that, they snatched it at the end.

"There'll be some hurt going into Saturday, definitely."

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