- England coaching staff mull over team's performances during Six Nations
- Coaches positive England will kick on after Wales loss
While England’s players will be licking their wounds after the record loss to Wales last weekend, the coaches who helped guide them to the grand slam showdown have had some time to reflect not only on the defeat but also how far the team has come since last year’s tournament.
The 30-3 defeat at the Millennium Stadium denied England their first grand slam since 2003 and left Stuart Lancaster’s side as runners up for the second successive year. The 2012 RBS 6 Nations was the first glimpse of what was to come for England under then interim head coach Lancaster, and one year on the progress is evident.
Along with Backs Coach Andy Farrell, Forwards Coach Graham Rowntree, and Attacking Skills Coach Mike Catt, Lancaster has been tasked with blooding in a number of new players to help build an England squad that can eventually challenge for the World Cup in 2015. The team sheet against Wales was evidence of his trust in the ability of new players, with just 290 caps between the starting XV. The likes of Joe Launchbury (nine caps), Tom Youngs (eight caps), and Joe Marler (nine caps) debuted under Lancaster’s tenure and started in Cardiff.
While a win against Wales would have been the ultimate affirmation of this new England side’s potential, Lancaster is quick to point out that there are positives to be taken from this year’s RBS 6 Nations and the past 14 months.
“I think all teams go through periods of transition, international teams certainly do,” said Lancaster. ”You have got to bring in new players because you know that some back then [post Rugby World Cup 2011] in the group will not make the next world cup and we made the decision 14 months ago to bring a group of players who will go through the experiences together, the good and the bad.
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“There will be changes in our squad but fundamentally it will not change too much from where we are and I think overall it’s the right decision to do that as we have won five out of five prior to that game [against Wales] and we have made great strides. But on the day Wales were better and we will take that on the chin and move on.”
While England have achieved a draw against the Springboks, a win against New Zealand and eight Six Nations wins over the past 14 months under Lancaster, the Welsh match was a disappointing display for players, coaches and fans. Two second-half tries from Alex Cuthbert put the game out of reach, while areas such as the scrum – where England won just 25 per cent on their own put in – highlighted areas that need to be worked on over the coming months.
Forwards coach Rowntree says that the team must learn from the loss but he has faith in their thirst to get better.
“Saturday was a dent to what we had been doing; it would have been nice to have got that but we have to learn what went wrong. At 60 minutes we were still in the game but that last quarter of the game got away from us and we have got to learn from that. In my department I need clarification of why those penalties were given around the scrum and breakdown as I need to tell the lads what to do better after watching the game.
“What we have shown in the last 15 months, never mind in the last eight weeks, is that we learn quickly so we have to capture what we learnt on Saturday night in terms of pressure, being starved of possession, and keeping hold of the ball in the right area of the field and learn from those perspectives very quickly.”
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England’s adaptability to opposition and conditions has been an on-going theme throughout this year’s tournament and backs coach Farrell is proud of how the team showed maturity in the face of different challenges.
“Each game presented something different and we managed to deal with that,” he said. “To get ourselves four from four was very pleasing because a lot of the lads had not been in those situations before. In the rain against a really experienced Ireland side in Dublin was a challenge and we overcame a side that’s been there and done that with players in their side. I thought we grew a lot there with that experience and in the French game I thought the physical battle was very tough, it wasn’t all going our way but we came through that so we have managed to find a way of winning, which is what it’s all about.”
The current England crop are drawn from teams up and down the Aviva Premiership, but 14 of the 15 starters against Wales were from the top four teams in the league. Attack coach Mike Catt, who has suffered big defeats in an England shirt such as a 36-0 drubbing by South Africa in the 2007 World Cup, believes that the best way for the players to get over the Wales loss is to get back playing for their clubs and keep on progressing.
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“Getting back and playing again is what I personally would do,” said Catt. “You want to play and get back to that environment, get back to your clubs but also get back to big games. A lot of players from top four will be going into massive games, so it’s a great step up for these guys to go: ‘Right I have got to get back up and I owe the club a certain amount and need to perform for them too.’ “
In terms of the past 15 months, Catt added: “We’ve got to look at it in the much bigger picture, since Stuart has taken over we have progressed. Billy Twelvetrees , Joe Launchbury and Mako Vunipola, and all the guys have been exceptional in their development and have experienced things that they would never have probably dreamt of six months ago or a year ago.
“We are very very happy with certain individuals and who have performed. It’s now being able to kick on and now they have the opportunity to go play big games for clubs, some will go on lions tour and some will go to Argentina.”