With the 2015 Six Nations over and done with, we take a look at the eleven things the coaching team will have learnt ahead of the World Cup…
1.The slow starts are inexcusable
In all five games of this years Six Nations, England’s failure to start quickly has seen them falling behind within the first 20 minutes. Whilst in all but the Ireland game they were able to fight back, they will not be given the same opportunities against the likes of South Africa and New Zealand during the World Cup.
It’s inexplicable that this happened in every single game of this years Six Nations. Whether this be down to a failure to get the side properly worked up pre-game, or a failure of the on-field leadership group, the England coaching team need to rectify this problem and quickly. Had they have resolved this earlier they could well be celebrating a Six Nations title right now.
2.There are still issues with the tactical kicking game
From charge downs through to aimless kicking into the oppositions 22, there are still a number of issues that need to be resolved in this aspect of England’s play. There’s no doubt that George Ford has the ability to put in some sublime kicks, however he is still prone to the odd howler every so often.
This issue is compounded by the fact that other than Mike Brown, he is pretty much England’s only real kicking option. The coaching team therefore need to focus on developing a few more options when it comes to kicking to spread the burden and ensure opponents don’t simply target Ford and cause more charge downs in important games.
3.The backline almost picks itself now
For pretty much the first time in Stuart Lancaster’s reign, England fans are now in a position where they can pretty much name their sides backline before it is even announced. This represents a huge opportunity for England to go into the World Cup with a settled group who have experienced playing alongside one another for a few games.
There are still one or two positions up to debate, with inside centre representing a key one. There is also some debate over whether there may be better options on the wing, however the current side have done enough to justify retaining their places. The question now is where do players currently out with injuries fit back in?
4.The one key issue still remains inside centre however
Unfortunately Luther Burrell failed to properly grasp his opportunity at outside centre during the Six Nations meaning England must continue the search for a 12 ahead of the World Cup. Billy Twelvetrees had his most impressive appearance for England against Wales as a second half substitute but failed to build upon this.
With time running out, England now need to quickly find an option at 12, and give them time to bed in during the warm-up games. There are a few options fortunately, however it’s now a case of whether they move a more experienced player like Tuilagi or Farrell outside of Ford, or if they look at someone new like Henry Slade, whatever happens, they cannot continue as is.
5.The make up of the front row is still open to debate
Whilst Dylan Hartley excelled during the Autumn Internationals, England’s quest to curb his red mist has seen him quelled somewhat as a player. He looked subdued for much of the Six Nations, with even his usually accurate line-out throwing looking a little suspect at times. The question is do England stick or go with another option like Tom Youngs who impressed?
Equally Joe Marler didn’t look quite at his best during the Six Nations, so is now the time for England to consider their other options at loosehead. Dan Cole did just enough to justify his selection, although he needs more game time to get back to full fitness. There’s no doubt he will come under pressure from David Wilson sooner rather than later though.
6.Questions must be asked of the defence
Once the go to strength of this England side, the defence has looked a shadow of it’s former self at times during the Six Nations. Whilst this has coincided with a more positive approach by the team, it’s important they do not player with complete reckless abandon as they will surely be punished by the world’s top sides later this year.
A balance needs to be struck between the positive attitude of the current side and the steadfast defence of old which is likely to be the cornerstone of any World Cup challenge. Against France the porous defence is somewhat understandable given the circumstances, however against the likes of Italy and Scotland it was inexcusable.
7.However there can finally be confidence in their ability to score tries
One of England’s biggest issues in recent years has been their failure to score tries in important matches. At long last this now seems like an issue that can be laid to rest after a series of impressive displays jam-packed with tries England sides of old could only have dreamed of scoring against such opposition.
This should fill the side with confidence going into the World Cup, although there are still areas to be worked on. Against Scotland in particular, England failed to finish off a number of clear opportunities which eventually cost them dearly in the title race. If they are to seriously challenge for the World Cup they need to ensure they are finishing off these kinds of chances.
8.The selections on the bench still need some work
One of the things that held back England in their final game against France was the lack of game changers on the bench. Whilst the likes of Richard Wigglesworth are great options to bring on to close a game out, they are not the kind of player who are likely to pull a try out of nowhere when England need it most.
Instead the selectors need to be looking at players like Danny Care and Christian Wade who can create a moment of magic out of nothing. This may be less of an issue if England can sort out their slow starts and get an early lead, however as is they need to have try scorers on the bench to ensure they can battle their way back into games.
9.The half back pairing must remain the same for the World Cup
One of the highlights of England’s recent run has been the performance of half-back pairing Ben Youngs and George Ford. Both are currently at the top of their game and were instrumental in much of what England did well over the last few weeks. It is vital that they are given the continued support of the coaching staff ahead of the World Cup.
The other important element here is that England need to ensure both players have the right men around them. Ford in particular thrives when he has willing runners like Joseph, England must therefore continue to select such players to ensure they get the very best out of their young half-back pairing.
10.The set piece looks to have taken a backwards step
One area of traditional strength for this England side has been the set piece. Both the scrum and the line-out have been key platforms which the team can build off. Unfortunately both of these areas, whilst not poor, certainly weren’t at their best during the Six Nations. This must be an area of slight concern for the coaching team.
Some of this fluctuating form can be put down to injuries which saw an ever changing front five utilised over the last six months. That being said, Dylan Hartley didn’t look up to his best during the tournament so something needs to be done. The set piece is absolutely key for this side who rely on getting ball in hand and running from deep.
11.It’s important to continue playing in such a positive manner
Despite the positive results over this years Six Nations, it would be easy for the England coaching staff to revert to a more conservative approach which would inevitably see certain players return to the starting XV for their ability to shut-out a game rather than win it. This simply cannot happen such have been the performances of late.
Despite falling just short, the team have the backing of the fans which could be absolutely essential when the World Cup kicks-off later this year. They therefore need to ensure they’re giving supporters something to cheer about which could turn Twickenham into a real trump card when even the big boys come to town.