RBS 6 Nations 2012 Review: England

Far and away the most improved side in this year’s Six Nations, England’s second place finish is a testament to the hard work of not just the players, but also Stuart Lancaster.

Victory over Ireland last weekend may have brought the Twickenham fans some emotional release after four painful months since the fallout of the Rugby World Cup, but it was in Paris where this new England side truly came together. After two tense and unconvincing wins away from home at Murrayfield and in Rome, two results that both looked unlikely at certain stages in each match, they came good.

From there, the cruel way in which Wales snatched victory at Twickenham could have seen their campaign go off the rails. Yet their confidence never seemed to waver in the aftermath of that match. By scoring three tries against a disjointed France away from home, they went one better than Ireland had done the week before. Maligned and criticised for their lack of attacking edge, they produced three sensational scores. The story would have been dramatically different if Fran├žois Trinh-Duc had converted his drop goal chance, but this was England’s moment of glory.

The demolition of Ireland a week later was reminiscent of the England pack of yesteryear, Alex Corbisiero and Dan Cole confirming that at present they are a cut above any of the other English competition coming through. This season’s championship has been all about younger players, both are 23, putting whatever experience they have at international level into good use.

On top of that, the temperament of England’s new players has been crucial. Owen Farrell’s consistency and accuracy saw him feature in nearly all of our writers Teams of the Tournament. Their defensive prowess came from outstanding communication and hard work from Brad Barritt and captain Chris Robshaw to highlight two leaders. Ben Morgan came in and gave England a dynamism from the back of the scrum that for so long they have truly been missing. The perfect balance between Mouritz Botha and Geoff Parling initially appeared accidental, but arguably formed the most effective pairing in the tournament.

It would also be wrong to forget the contribution of Charlie Hodgson; less so for his game management but more for his charge downs which proved the difference away from home. At a time when the young Farrell needed nurturing into international rugby, Hodgson’s inclusion in the starting XV was perfect. The level of his involvement going forward is up in the air with Toby Flood fit once more, but in the long-run his time with the side over the last two months could prove vital.

Finally, no one deserves credit more than Stuart Lancaster. Following every final press conference of the week at Pennyhill Park, it was hard not to leave without feeling a sense of encouragement. Under his watch, no detail has been overlooked. The clarity in his instructions to his players has meant that whilst critics may have quipped that the English game plan was simple and unimaginative, with eight weeks now passed since the tournament began he has worked nothing short of a miracle.

For England to finish second with four wins out of five is remarkable, especially given that three of those came away from home. If the majority of the starting XV can stick together over the coming seasons, and importantly under Lancaster’s watch, then the 2015 Rugby World Cup should be considerably more successful that the 2011 nightmare. More immediately, the focus will already be on South Africa, with Lancaster having already sent each player a DVD of what to expect. Rather than start afresh with Nick Mallett, England have the blueprints already mapped out. If he can produce the results that he has done in eight weeks, imagine the possibilites in four years.

by Ben Coles

14 thoughts on “RBS 6 Nations 2012 Review: England

  1. Not sure as yet whether the team have the capacity to destroy teams or have that bit of magic to set Twickenham alight but they do not look like a team that will be heavily beaten and it is good to see them as a team – not a bunch of individuals

  2. Personally, i think regardless of if SL or NM get the job, we need to bring in an experienced and proven specialist attack coach AND director of rugby. I would love to see a set up of:

    DOR – Sir Clive Woodward
    Manager – Stuart Lancaster
    Forwards Coach – Graeme Rowntree
    Defence and Skills Coach – Andy Farrell
    Attack Coach – Wayne Smith


    1. Woodward should not be let anywhere near this England side. His name and presence has long undermined the England job, even after he packed it in. His continued involvement would help undo the good work Lancaster and his assistants are doing at the minute.

      1. I agree with Dan Woodwards ship has sailed, no denying he’s a legend and brought us our greatest sporting achievement but times have changed and it would now be a step backwards as you get the sense he would interfere somewhat.

  3. TEAM is the appropriate word, you sense a real togetherness in this group of players and staff, their youth also gives hope for development, a lot of these players can improve a lot individually.

    This spirit will prevent aby huge defeats, their defense is good and they have players who love to tackle.

    There are still question marks over certain deficiaencies, mainly at the breakdown and the backlines attacking, To be truely a top team, England need to find/develop a world class seven and a creative centre qho can distribute the ball. Woods, Arm,itage and Saul are options that should be looked at. The centres is a bit more difficult there aren’t many guys putting there hands up for consideration. These are longterm issues and don’t demean the current success of the team.

    I have no quibbles about SL staying but I would like to see more technical support for him, Wayne Smith for the backs and may Niel Back for the Forwards, Rowbtree can stay as scrum coach and maybe Farrel as defensive coach. With that type of support and the age of the players this tam could go all the way.

  4. I think the positives have to be the performance of the Tight 5 in the later games. When Lancaster gave Parling his chance, he and Botha provided a solid scrummaging, line-out winning duo which shows great promise. Cole and Corbisiero edged the Welsh duo over the duration of the tournament for me, and after the two game experiment with Dowson, Morgan provided the breath of fresh air that the back row needed, and seemed to liberate Croft too.

    The backs is slightly trickier. There is a distinct lack of invention, but that said we were cutting enough to run in three tries against France and Ireland. Tuilagi makes an enormous difference in that respect, and Dickson and Farrell did more than enough at half back. What is slightly worrying is the lack of confidence running at people shown by the back three.

    Lancaster for me has done a wonderful job. The France win was totally unexpected, and I did think the two home games would have gone the other way, leaving us with 3 wins out of 5, but a 4th win was beyond the dreams of most supporters, and had Courtney Lawes had stronger arms and the TMO stronger eyesight (smile) we could well be celebrating the most unexpected Grand Slam ever! (ifs and buts I know, but it is nice to hypothesise).

    All in all, a massive step forward for England. To sum it up, in my blog I have a Team of the Tournament with their deputies. 12 Welshmen make the 30, 9 Englishmen, 5 Irishmen, 3 Scots and Wesley Fofana from France. Click on my name above to have a look. That 9 Englishmen are there is both a credit to Lancaster, Rowntree and Andy Farrell and a sleight on the French in particular.

    In this Olympic year: Citius, Altius, Fortius England (Faster, higher, stronger)

  5. Agreed regarding Wayne Smith. Lancaster needs that help in my opinion and he brings a bit of extra experience. Neil Back is an interesting choice to help at the breakdown. Hadn’t really considered him, but now you mention it, he wouldn’t be the worst coach to have on board. Not sure I agree with Woodward coming back. Might be too opinionated and stifle what Lancaster has already brought to the party.

    1. I think Back has become an excellent coach, as he has worked with small teams he is use to woring with the resources he has rather than getting new players in, this is similar to international rugby in theory. He is also a great student of physical preperation both as a player and a coach, his leeds team was the best prepared (physically) in the prem.

      He is a natural born winner, a real competitor, I think his mentality would be a blessing plus the breakdown was his area of excellence, I think he has a lot to add.

      Unfortunately he has always been on the outside of the English setup, even as a player he was rejected many times at the start of his career, it was only the Lions tour 95 that really launched him. I doubt he will ever get a call from HQ.

  6. Oh yes forgot to say that I can’t really quibble with the remainder of Ben’s comments. Fair summary IMO.

  7. Since Saracens say that Andy Farrell is not available, what about Gary Gold coming in at the end of the season as Defence coach. Seems to be doing a good job in reviving Falcons based on improving their defence, and has world cup experience as No 2 at South Africa.

  8. Shame that Farrell won’t be able to stay on with England. He has helped set up some good basic core skills and defensive systems.

    The main point is most of these players have been together for a very short period of time. Especially compared to the rest of the teams in the 6N. They have performed with maturity and intelligence. Kept it tight when they needed to, and counter attacked brilliantly when they had the chance.

    There is three years until the next WC, and if they can improve that much in 8 weeks, just imagine what can be achieved in three years. The future under Lancaster looks promising and exciting, and I hope they keep him on.

  9. If I were Ian Ritchie, I’d be concerned that the evaluation of SL’s contribution is clouded by the appalling state that he inherited. It tends to exaggerate his potential to deliver improvement from the current position. It might be best to give him a 12-month contract, as, at the end of that, it will be much more clear whether he has got what is needed.

    I doubt that Sarries would stop AF moving if he wants.

    1. Tend to agree that Sarries are taking a negotiating position to get the best compensation rather than trying to stop Farrell moving. Can’t really argue with that.

  10. One of the things I was most impressed with was England not giving away stupid penalties in the number they did under Martin Johnson and also the subsequent yellow cards.

    The team still needs to gel a bit but the signs are good, I would still like Lancaster to get the job but Mallett would not be a bad choice either (not a foreign coach born in England!).

    The signs are looking good and hope for a good tour of South Africa.

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