Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Lydon has grand plans for England

Joe Lydon, the Rugby Football Union's head of international player development
Joe Lydon, the Rugby Football Union's head of international player development

A criticism often levelled at English rugby is that it fails to punch its weight, but Joe Lydon is ready to awaken a "phenomenal force" from its slumber.

One World Cup triumph could be viewed as a poor return for a nation blessed with the greatest playing numbers and a balance sheet that is the envy of all other unions.

It is a view that Lydon, the Rugby Football Union's new head of international player development, appreciated during his five-year spell as Wales' head of rugby.

From the outside looking in, he was aware of the perception in other unions that if English rugby made the most of its potential, it would be feared across all levels - even by the game's powerhouse New Zealand.

"There's a huge amount of talent and resources in England," Lydon said.

"At times people are working against each other when actually if we got everybody together pulling the same direction we should be a feared nation.

"One of the pleasing things I learnt from having sat outside the tent is that I know other countries recognise that if we do get it right we'll be a phenomenal force.

"Should New Zealand be worried? It's not so much worry, I think the word is respect. I think they are respecting England now.

"I don't believe other unions feel that this is just a cocky arrogance from us. They know there are systems and plans in place to get us where we want to be.

"I don't want us to be seen as arrogant, but I want us to be successful and for people to have respect for England.

"That win against New Zealand last year should not be seen as an oddity, beating them is something we should have a good chance of doing every time."

Lydon's role is to manage the international performance pathway to provide a pipeline of players for England with his remit including the Saxons, Under-20s, Under-18s and Sevens teams.

Dealing with the Aviva Premiership clubs is a key part of the job and Lydon plots his path very carefully through a political landscape currently dominated by the dispute over the future of the Heineken Cup.

"We need to understand and have respect for the domestic competition, Europe and the international structure, putting players at the centre. If you align it well, English rugby will benefit," he said.

"What's happening in Europe now is understandable. We're involved in a multi-million pound business so I understand these conversations have to happen.

"In the middle of it I have to look after how we develop players. I'm developing players hopefully for the England team, but in doing that we're helping the clubs as well.

"We're trying to add value to what the clubs to, and they already do an awful lot of great work."

Lydon was speaking at Paddington Station in central London to announce Heathrow Express as the new official principal partner of England Sevens.

Flanked by new England Sevens coach Simon Amor, Lydon explained the format still has an important role to play.

"England Sevens and the sevens circuit are fantastic tools if they're used in the right way, but all the stakeholders have to be part of that," he said.

"Recently it hasn't fit for the clubs and I understand why, but if we do work together we can use sevens as it should be - to develop players.

"Sevens is a fabulous way to develop skills, but it's important that it performs within its own right."

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