The most exciting aspect of the 2012 Six Nations was the emergence of so much new talent. So much for all those voices of doom warning us that, with all the overseas players flooding our leagues, the next generation would find it impossible to materialise.
Wales, of course, have ridden the wave of youth all the way to Grand Slam glory. To a certain extent England are in their slipstream. The likes of Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Morgan and the two props, Alex Corbisiero and Dan Cole, helped carry Stuart Lancaster's hastily assembled team to a four-wins record which few believed very likely.
So, who might go on next year's Lions tour to Australia? It's fun, but utterly pointless, to speculate about a XV – form and favour can come and go in a few weeks, never mind 15 months. And now that the youngsters are bursting through – and immediately looking comfortable on the big stage – it makes predicting even dafter. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
I can assure you that the England players will have returned to their clubs this week and found that the intensity does not stop. In the months they've been away, players have stepped up ... some of these internationals may well be very young, but already they are being pushed by a new crop. It is an exhilarating scenario.
Take Farrell, to many people's minds the "find" of the tournament. Owen is only 20, a mere pup. But George Ford has just turned 19. And while Owen has been performing his heroics wearing the Red Rose, Ford has been turning heads at Leicester. George was picked ahead of Toby Flood last Sunday and justified Richard Cockerill's brave selection with a fine display in the LV Cup final win over Northampton.
And there's the point. Having seen the young success stories, coaches are increasingly prepared to throw the teenagers and early 20-somethings into the fray. They are so well conditioned in the academies, some of them are ready for the big time straight away. Granted, they must be protected against the perils of burnout, but there is absolutely no point in wrapping them in cotton wool. Good enough, old enough – that seems to apply more now than ever. These kids are energising the scene.
Farrell has Ford snapping at his heels, while the older guard such as Floody will rise to the challenge. The bar is being raised and the England national side will be the ultimate beneficiary. It's all about competition for places.
That's why I'll be so interested to see what happens on the summer tour to South Africa. There are always withdrawals and there will be players on the fringes of selection who will have the opportunity to put down their markers. It was always going to be tough in South Africa but now England will have the expectation to deal with it as well. No, it won't be a disaster if we lose all three Tests, but their performances will be picked apart as the media and fans check to ensure the curve is still on its upward trend. The pressure will be piling on them, from outside and within, and it will be interesting to see how they deal with it.
Lewis Moody is a TAG Heuer ambassador. TAG Heuer are the official watch of England RugbyReuse content