Stuart Lancaster prepares to map out a scar-free future for England

Post-traumatic shock can take various forms, from unwanted flashbacks to irritability and helplessness.

The past few 72 hours have, inevitably, not been an easy time for England's players or management, but determined efforts have already begun at Twickenham to ensure Saturday's train wreck of a defeat to Wales does not leave a permanent mental scar.

A blip was the view of Andy Farrell, England's backs coach, as he reflected on the 30-3 loss at the Millennium Stadium, while his colleague Mike Catt predicted the grim experience would trigger "a positive reaction" in the coming 12 months and beyond. "In two years' time, when we're in a World Cup final, hopefully, we will look back at things like this and say it was a blessing in disguise," predicted Catt. "New Zealand lost games on the way to winning the last World Cup … you learn so much from your failures."

Happily, however, the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, is not remotely in denial. While England may not have appreciated Steve Walsh's refereeing of the scrum and breakdown, Wales exposed all manner of other fault-lines, particularly in the final quarter. England were second best in too many areas that Lancaster had previously been able either to fix temporarily or quietly gloss over.

According to one leading British coach with Test experience, England's front five is vulnerable because the hooker Tom Youngs is not, as yet, a sufficiently strong or wily scrummager at the highest level. As well as the absence of a forceful ball-carrying No8, the same coach suggests Lancaster paid for not having sufficient faith in Billy Twelvetrees at inside centre and must now select at least one genuine flyer, if not two, in his back three.

Lancaster may well have already reached similar private conclusions, although the Cardiff script could have been somewhat different had Alex Corbisiero and Ben Morgan been fit to face Wales, or Dylan Hartley's form not mysteriously levelled off. What no-one disputes is that there is now a genuine window of opportunity for several uncapped players over the coming weeks as the management seek to transform their country from 2013 grand slam flops into 2014 champions. "There are some good opportunities for guys to try to cement their spot in the team going into the autumn internationals," confirmed Catt. "We'll have a look in the next five or six weeks and if there are youngsters coming through we'll pick accordingly." Lancaster has some names in mind already, not least at open-side flanker.

Leaving aside Walsh's interpretations at the breakdown, both Wales and Australia have shown this winter that England can be undone by a pacy 'fetcher' in the traditional breakaway mould. Chris Robshaw was as tirelessly committed as ever in Cardiff but the long-term balance of the English back-row needs re-evaluating. Worcester's Matt Kvesic, Saracens's Will Fraser and Harlequins's Luke Wallace have all been name-checked by Lancaster as youngsters with a big future, possibly as early as this summer's tour to Argentina.

There is no shortage of try-scoring wing alternatives, either. Wasps' Christian Wade stands only 5ft 8in but he and London Irish's Marland Yarde are breathing down Chris Ashton's neck, as is Gloucester's thrillingly elusive Jonny May, the Premiership's player of the month in February. Add in Gloucester's Freddie Burns at fly-half, Billy Vunipola at No8 and centres Elliot Daly and Jonathan Joseph, and England have plenty of gifted newcomers capable of blazing trails across the pampas. With Danny Care and Ben Youngs still blowing infuriatingly hot and cold, Harlequins' Karl Dickson could also be worth a look.

As yet, Lancaster does not know how many English Lions will be chosen, while coaching replacements for Farrell and Graham Rowntree are set to be confirmed within the next fortnight. But he does know that any England player who ends the season tamely is risking his place. "The Argentina tour gives us a chance to work with a wider group of players and see which can make the transition from club to country and play and deliver in a hostile environment," stressed Lancaster. "The next round of Premiership games and the European Cup quarter-finals are very important for a lot of players, including those who have just finished the Six Nations. There will be a lot of decisions made in the next few weeks."

The quality of those calls will also determine how swiftly England bounce back from their disappointment. They may take comfort from the fact that had bonus points been in place for this year's championship, as has been mooted, England would have won the title ahead of Wales by virtue of their four-try win over Scotland. Second place is hardly disastrous, but what happens next will fundamentally shape their future prospects. "I'd rather go through the tough times now than be blooding young players with no experience in the 2015 World Cup in our own backyard," warned Lancaster flatly. "I don't see wholesale changes but I definitely see increased pressure on certain players. Saturday's defeat should raise the determination never to let it happen again, as opposed to leaving any scars."

Powered by article was written by Robert Kitson, for The Guardian on Tuesday 19th March 2013 22.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © unofficialenglandrugby