It’s now been over a week since the 2014 Six Nations came to a close but I wanted to offer some thoughts on England’s performance in this year’s tournament before too long.
Although you can not begrudge Ireland their Championship victory, as an England fan you are nonetheless reminded of the narrow margins. In the end Ireland and England were separated by ten points after both won four games out of five and secured eight points in the process. You can only think about what could have been; England seeing out the game better in the opener against France, thus preventing the winning score, or Danny Care’s try in the same game being awarded, or the ball not bouncing fortuitously for Yoann Huget to score in the opening stages. Any such outcome and England would have had the tournament and a Grand Slam. Likewise, had they not conceded the interception try to Italy and put on some more points in the games against Wales and Scotland, they would have overturned the points deficit with Ireland to sit top of the pile the previous weekend. Had France not missed a late penalty or had their late try not been disallowed, then France would have beaten Ireland and by doing so would have handed England the trophy.
We can always talk about what could have happened but the important thing is what did happen. England have played their best Six Nations for a long time, better than in 2011, when they last won the title, as they put in five good performances whereas three years ago they were comprehensively beaten in Dublin. They showed more attacking prowess and registered more tries than the 2012 and 2013 tournaments where they finished second behind Wales. This year there were more standout individual performances. Mike Brown was a revelation, scoring four tries, winning three Man of the Match awards and topping the charts for most clean breaks, most defenders beaten and most metres made. His transformation from bit-part player to key player is extraordinary, a deserved recipient of the Player of the Tournament accolade. Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were excellent in the second row and aged respectively 22 and 25 they have the time to continue to forge a successful partnership for their country in future years. The halfbacks Danny Care and Owen Farrell were also fantastic, particularly the former upon his return to the starting XV. Meanwhile rookie centre Luther Burrell was one the tournament’s breakthrough players.
Stuart Lancaster has received criticism for substituting certain players during the tournament, decisions which were seen to have disrupted the side’s rhythm. Personally I wouldn’t have taken Care off in Paris. As one of our best players and instrumental in England’s fight back he should have remained on the pitch. Burrell could have been handed more time against Italy, it was the final game and so he did not need to be rested for the following match. That being said, the bench did contribute to England’s attacking play in Rome and had a hand in some late scores. Promisingly, England has a young and developing side, something that bodes well for the future, in particular next year’s World Cup on home soil. Importantly, there is also genuine competition in positions across the park.
Yet after recording a third successive second place in the Six Nations under Lancaster both he and his squad will know, as does every England supporter that the next step is to win some silverware and to pick up some wins against the Southern Hemisphere giants. This summer’s New Zealand tour would be a good place to start. In the long run there is no prize for finishing second or ‘nearly making it.’ Being victorious in a tournament and being consistently good is the way to etch one’s self into memory, folklore, books, magazines, video footage etc.
Now we wait and see what the future holds for this England side. The closure of the 2015 World Cup campaign will be an appropriate time to judge. This blog will look to revisit this area then. (I hope it turns out good!)