England caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster has been praised by forwards coach Graham Rowntree for dragging England "out of the gutter" while he wait to hear if the temporary coach will be made permanent coach.
Rowntree said the environment Lancaster had created was even better than that he'd enjoyed as a player and coach with the British and Irish Lions because of where England were after a World Cup in New Zealand where the team failed to reach the semi-finals and several players were involved in embarrassing off-field incidents.
Lancaster, appointed on a caretaker basis for the Six Nations following Martin Johnson's post-World Cup resignation, guided a new-look team to four wins out of five and a second-placed finish behind Grand Slam champions Wales that culminated with a 30-9 thrashing of Ireland at Twickenham last weekend.
Former Test prop Rowntree, the lone survivor from 2003 World Cup winning captain Johnson's senior coaching team, was in no doubt about the impact Lancaster, previously coach of England's reserve Saxons, had made.
"Stuart has dragged us out of the gutter," Rowntree said at Twickenham on Tuesday, reflecting on a Six Nations that started amidst a series of leaked and highly critical reports into England's World Cup campaign.
"We'd failed, the whole leaked reports business was messy. It was only a few weeks ago but we've come a long way," added Rowntree, who said the change in atmosphere was noticeable even at England's pre-tournament training camp in Lancaster's home town of Leeds, northern England.
"Even by the end of the Leeds camp it felt special."
"My over-riding feeling is of pride but there's a load more to come from this group of players and I'm dying to work with them again."
Rowntree said the mood of an England squad where eight players were handed their Test debuts by Lancaster during the Six Nations was summed up late after the Ireland match.
"It was a cracking night but tinged with sadness because we felt an emotional journey was coming to an end.
"I've never felt that way before, I've always been ready for home. But the players have created that environment on the back of Stuart's culture.
"It's the best I've known as a player and coach, even better than Lions because of the place we were in beforehand.
"You can't argue with what he (Lancaster) has done, performance-wise and culturally with this group."
Lancaster, set to be interviewed by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) later this week for a post where his main rival is thought to be Nick Mallett, the former South Africa and Italy coach, said: "As a coach who started his coaching journey 20 years ago, to coach at the highest level has been unbelievable.
"We'll see what happens next. It's been a brilliant journey but I'm more than happy to carry on," said Lancaster, who outlined his vision for England's run to the 2015 World Cup on home soil to reporters with a detailed slide presentation.
"A lot of forward thinking has gone into it, it wasn't just about 'holding the fort', Lancaster explained.
"My role was to present a vision for the Six Nations and build good foundations, which I think we have done.
"We've got 37 Tests to go (until the World Cup). Our philosophy was to selecting on character as talent, mutual accountability," Lancaster said.
"We wanted to build a team for the long-term as well as the short-term.
"I'm delighted the players have bought into it. The ultimate aim is to have a youngish squad for 2015 with the requisite experience."
But first England face three Tests in South Africa, one of several daunting June tours for leading European nations, with Wales in Australia and Ireland in New Zealand.
"It's a big challenge for the northern hemisphere this summer but we have to go to their back yard and judge ourselves," said Lancaster.
"When we met on Sunday, our final message to the players was making sure they were in the right place mentally for South Africa so we can be competitive."