In certain quarters English sportsmen will forever be perceived as innately arrogant but anyone clinging to that tired old cliche has not met Stuart Lancaster or his squad. As Lancaster made clearon Thursday, the British and Irish Lions management should have no qualms about selecting any England player for the summer tour of Australia and will be able to invest "100% trust" in those making the trip.
Lancaster has already stressed as much to Warren Gatland, the Lions coach, following the latter's remarks this week that English players brought extra "pressures" with them and were not overly popular around the world. Gatland has complained that his comments were misinterpreted but, regardless, Lancaster and his players insist the truth is very different.
With his side sitting on top of the Six Nations table, the head coach is understandably hopeful several of his team will make the Lions squad and is equally adamant those chosen will be perfect ambassadors. "I would trust the players 100%," he said, as England concluded a brief training camp at the Football Association's centre near Burton upon Trent.
"From my point of view the players' behaviour has been excellent since I took over this job. Personally I've no concerns whatsoever about the players' ability to behave and conduct themselves in a professional manner on or off the field. When I watch them interact, either between themselves or with members of the public, I never see something which I think is not appropriate behaviour. What has happened in the past doesn't mean to say it's going to happen in the future."
Lancaster, in other words, believes England's off-field problems during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand should no longer be held against them, as he reiterated to Gatland when he came along to watch England train at St George's Park this week.
"My philosophy has always been to say that's in the past and doesn't reflect where we are as a group at the moment," he said.
"I had a good chat with Warren. He reassured me selection would be based on merit alone and I've relayed that to the squad. We've also had a good chat about which players I feel are in form at the moment and gave him a good insight into the players we have.
"It's early days to narrow down what the squad's going to be. There's still a lot of rugby to be played. But if selection was this weekend you'd like to think there would be quite a few of our players in contention."
One of the players hoping to catch Gatland's eye, the wing Chris Ashton, also emphasised that times have changed radically under the Lancaster regime. Ashton was among those caught up in off-field incidents in New Zealand – pictured enjoying a notorious drunken night out at a Queenstown bar involving dwarf throwing – but feels he, and everyone else, has learned from the experience. "I don't think there'll ever be a repeat of that," said the former Wigan rugby league player. "I won't be getting caught out again like last time. It's completely different now. The people who were there have learnt from the experience and if they weren't there they know the consequences if you get caught out in the way we did.
"It was a mistake, we didn't do it on purpose. But you do sometimes have to realise the situation you're in. Stuart hasn't necessarily focused on that area but it's now a given that it's unacceptable to put yourselves in those positions. We're here to play rugby and put ourselves on the back pages, not the front pages. We kind of lost touch a little bit with that."
Ashton and his team-mates are also confident their nationality will not be an issue when the Lions tour squad are selected on 30 April. "I've met Warren a few times and he seems a fair bloke. If the best players are in this team, I'm sure he'll be picking them."
Gatland said he had been "very impressed" by his visit to the England camp. "I had a great welcome and after sitting down with Stuart Lancaster and his coaches for a chat I was able to sit in on the debrief of the win over Ireland in Dublin. It was well presented by all the coaches, was interesting and very insightful.
"The fact my visit coincided with all the furore over comments I made to a journalist about wanting to protect the English players in the Lions party from external forces made it all the more apt.
"I mixed with the players and was blown away once again by the interest in, and desire to be a part of, the Lions experience."
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