Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Parker's in the Lancaster fan club

Stuart Lancaster, pictured, has been hailed as a visionary as Matt Parker

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has been hailed as a visionary in the mould of Sir Dave Brailsford by one of the driving forces behind Britain's all-conquering cycling team.

Matt Parker was installed as England's head of athletic performance a year ago after being lured from his post as director of marginal gains for British Cycling.

Working beneath Brailsford, Britain's cycling mastermind, Parker was a highly-influential figure in Team GB's success at the Beijing and London Olympic Games and was also involved in the Tour de France with Team Sky.

Parker's expertise made him the outstanding candidate for the newly created position with England that oversees departments such as strength and conditioning, analysis and sports science.

The 38-year-old is preparing for his second RBS 6 Nations and after almost 13 months in his post, has detected similarities between Brailsford and Lancaster.

"Stuart and Dave are both very strong leaders. They're not too dissimilar in many ways," Parker said.

"Stuart has a very clear direction, he knows what he wants. What he's instilled in the culture of the whole group feels like high performance.

"That's critical for sustaining success at a high level. You have to have the highest possible standards.

"So they're both visionary, inspirational and incredibly hard-working."

Parker's search for improvement is carefully-judged, focusing on smaller gains rather than massive game-changers that are rarely discovered. The athlete always remains at the heart of his philosophy.

"You must innovate responsibly. You can overdo it and start to think that you're cleverer than you really are," he said.

"This isn't a science project. At the end of the day it's the players who will win the World Cup.

"It's about ensuring they are confident that they can perform to their best."

Parker outlines five key principles that drive successful teams - clear direction, winning culture, good people, relentless pursuit of excellence and performance plan.

On his recommendation a facility is being built at England's Pennyhill Park training base in Surrey with building work due to finish in June.

The project is costing more than £1million - the Rugby Football Union is reluctant to provide an exact figure - and consists of a 40 x 40-metre indoor area including 3G pitch, a large gym and training facilities.

Parker describes it as a "world class facility for the development of world leading practice", although he stresses that a national centre remains on the agenda.

There will be no room for the cryotherapy chambers so highly prized by Wales and their head coach Warren Gatland, however.

"Our training culture is grounded in hard work, discipline and honesty. This facility is a great environment to come into and work hard," Parker said.

"We don't need a cryochamber. The technology has been around for a long time.

"We use it for bits and pieces, but it's not something we'd look to have in our facility.

"Different teams put together their practices together in different ways."

Parker, who did a physiology degree at university in Glasgow before joining the Institute of Sport in Manchester in 2001, admits the opportunity of working with England was too hard to turn down.

He found the set-up to be more advanced than he had envisaged and also enjoys the camaraderie of working in a team sport.

"There's more of a sense of family. You train with your team-mates on a day-to-day basis. I've enjoyed the family feel and the culture that comes with it," he said.

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