The last 10 years haven’t been the easiest for English rugby fans. Yes there have been World Cup semi-finals, 6 Nations titles and big one-off games, but in general there hasn’t been an awful lot to shout about.
For the most part, the national team has been playing a turgid brand of rugby that at some stages brought the once roaring Twickenham to a near deathly silence, whilst the off the field antics of players hasn’t helped. Dwarf-tossing, alcohol fuelled misdemeanour’s and stories of internal strife did little to boost the public’s perception of English rugby.
Fortunately, under the reign of Stuart Lancaster, England finally seem to have turned a corner recently. There’s been a certain sense of anticipation quietly building since Lancaster was named Head Coach in 2012, however this years 6 Nations seemed to be the moment English rugby found it’s roar once again.
England may not have won this years 6 Nations, however there has been a clear momentum shift, not just on the field but also in the stands and amongst fans sat round tv screens in living rooms and bars across the country. English rugby fans finally have a team they can be proud of both on and off the pitch.
Lancaster has instilled a sense of being amongst his team, all the players clearly want to be there and play for him, the team, each other and the fans. You could see it in the final minutes of the game in Rome where frustration was evident on players faces as they raced to get the ball for a line-out as they chased Ireland’s superior points difference.
(At this point it feels only right to interject about Ireland and their magnificent turnaround since last years tournament. Whilst Lancaster and England have hogged most of the headlines until the final weekend it is important to remember that Joe Schmidt has taken Ireland from 5th to winners in the space of just one season.
In a number of ways, Ireland’s 6 Nations crown is significantly more impressive than England’s triple crown. I also couldn’t be more pleased to see the legend that is Brian O’Driscoll retire from international rugby with a winners medal.)
Anyway, the passion and determination shown in the current England side has clearly rubbed off on the fans as Twickenham was back to it’s booming best this year with fans singing their hearts out. This kind of atmosphere can only bode well for a home World Cup in 18 months time.
It is not just the coach and players we have to thank for this though, there has been a significant marketing effort put in place by some of the bods at the RFU who deserve just as much praise. English rugby has been everywhere over the last 8 weeks, and it is therefore no surprise that there seems to be so much support to help carry the team home.
Unlike in previous years were I felt almost apologetic for some of the rugby on show at Twickenham, I finally feel I can get genuinely excited about the brand of rugby being played and the potential this young team has. I’m not going to make any premature predictions about World Cup glory and such like but I can’t help but feel that the 2014 6 Nations has been a huge momentum shifter for English rugby.