England fell short in the Six Nations for the fourth successive year, but Stuart Lancaster believes that a campaign waged without several leading players puts them in a strong position for the World Cup they are hosting in the autumn.
Ireland’s victory in Scotland meant England had to beat France by 26 points, something they had done only once in the Six Nations, back in 2001, to clinch the championship but with five minutes to go they were within a converted try of reaching their target having scored seven tries and passed 50 points against Les Bleus for the first time.
The match ended with England driving a maul towards the France line with most of their players involved. When it collapsed, the home players looked in hope at the referee Nigel Owens for a penalty try, but it was Billy Twelvetrees who was blown for sealing off and another dream died.
“I have never seen such a courageous performance from a group of players,” said Lancaster. “I am hugely proud of the fight they showed and the way they have performed throughout the championship. We came up short in the end but we had a mindset to play and keep going against a high-quality team like France.”
Asked if not finishing first amounted to failure, he replied: “It is not success. It is the fourth time in my time that we have come second and I am disappointed. It hurts, but when you look at where we were before the start of the tournament, going to Cardiff without a number of players, the players have achieved a lot.
“It is positive for us ahead of the World Cup. We scored 18 tries in the tournament and were without the likes of Joe Launchbury, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Morgan, who will all come back into the squad. There is a long way to go before September and we have to become consistent throughout the 80 minutes.”
England had watched Wales’s victory in Rome before leaving for Twickenham, cheering the home side’s last-minute try by Leonard Sarto, who, a year ago, thwarted England’s title bid with an interception score at the Stadio Olimpico but now cut Wales’s points difference by seven. “We felt that beating France by 16 points was doable,” Lancaster said, “but when we were at the ground, we saw Ireland extending that target by 10 and that was always going to be demanding against a side as good as France: just beating them is a big task. Doing so by a big score is huge, but we came within a collapsed maul on the line of doing so.”
The wing Jack Nowell scored two of England’s seven tries, including the final one that set up the frantic finish. “It was a terrific performance by us but we came up just short,” he said. “It gives us a stepping stone to the World Cup, showing we are not the finished article and have things to work on.”
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