Stuart Lancaster must focus now odds are against him

Thinking ahead: interim chief Stuart Lancaster
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Stuart Lancaster is ­discovering just how mentally demanding the job of England head coach is.

<img src="http://i.thisislondon.co.uk/i/pix/2012/02/greene-king-sponsor.jpg" />

The interim chief will soon be interviewed for the permanent post but Nick Mallett now appears to be in pole position for the role.

Meanwhile, Charlie Hodgson and Joe Simpson have given Lancaster very different selection problems leading into Sunday’s crucial clash with France in Paris.

John Kirwan, the former Japan and Italy coach, has muddied the waters for Lancaster, who guided England to wins over Scotland and Italy and saw his men battle hard before falling 19-12 to Grand Slam-chasing Wales.

Kirwan wanted to be England head coach only to be told by the Rugby Football Union’s headhunters he lacked the international experience required which means Lancaster must be in an even weaker position as his Test CV is a mere three matches. There is a growing belief the RFU will eventually recognise the merits of handing the team to Mallett, the former South Africa and Italy coach.

If that happens, Lancaster could assume a technical role, providing back up to the new coaching team while still in charge of the Saxons.

Despite the speculation, Lancaster must ensure this Sunday’s match is the only topic of conversation at the squad’s Bagshot hotel this week.

Given the contrasting fortunes of Simpson and Hodgson, Lancaster has plenty to ponder.

Simpson, who was one of England’s World Cup scrum halves, dislocated his shoulder in the 18-13 win over London Irish on Saturday.

Yesterday, Hodgson kicked all of Saracens’ points in their 18-12 win over Northampton and Lancaster must now decide whether to play the fly-half, who missed the win over Wales with a cut finger. In Hodgson’s absence, club-mate Owen Farrell produced an assured display at No10 with Manu Tuilagi returning to outside centre and giving the team much needed ball-carrying power.

France today named an unchanged squad to face England, despite only drawing 17-17 with Ireland yesterday.

<img src="http://i.thisislondon.co.uk/i/pix/2012/02/greene-king-sponsor2.jpg" style="float:left;margin:0;padding:0 10px 5px 0;" />Coverage is brought to you in association with Greene King IPA, crafted in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk , with 100% English ingredients and with over 200 years of passion and dedication in every pint. <br>

To win the chance to train with the England squad go to <a href="http://www.properpint.co.uk" target="_blank">properpint.co.uk</a>

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