Lewis Moody's Six Nations column: Dublin was a reality check - England need a rapid response

The consistency Stuart Lancaster hungers for has not materialised, and there is real competition for every position

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The Independent Online

I said before the Ireland match that it was England’s most important game in 18 months, that winning it would deliver the very real prospect of a Grand Slam in a World Cup year – and that with huge swathes of first-choice players out injured.

Maybe we all got a bit carried away because they were comprehensively beaten and the result in Dublin puts into context just where many of these young contenders are in their development in the game. That team performed well against Wales but they simply could not back it up against an experienced Ireland side playing at home.

You can always play a couple of youngsters when you have experience in the team, but England’s injury list means the balance is not right. The return of Courtney Lawes against Scotland after a lengthy absence redresses that slightly, and Geoff Parling will be on the bench, too.

 

That result will have given this England team a serious kick up the arse. If they have any real intention to compete strongly in this World Cup, they need to go up a few levels. Keeping the ball. Accuracy. Execution. All those things. And they need to perform for the full 80 minutes.

Against Wales and Italy they gave away needless penalties in the opening minutes, and I said that if they did the same against Ireland they would struggle to win the match. Unfortunately, that is what happened.

You just cannot afford to do that against the best teams. It’s not like the players don’t know that, but they do not have the discipline to control themselves. It must be hugely frustrating for the coaches to watch, as I know for a fact that it is an area of the game they have been working hard on.

Billy Vunipola showed over exuberance and James Haskell, too. James isn’t a young lad and realises he must stake his claim for a place in the side. Still, he should know better.

One game, one defeat, doesn’t change everything. It will not cause Stuart Lancaster to alter radically his plans. But the result leaves question marks hanging over the squad, as it all but proves more experience is needed. George Ford and Jonathan Joseph have cemented their places for the time being. Manu Tuilagi’s return will be a big boost, if a way for him to play alongside Joseph in the centres can be found.

Others the head coach might be more uncertain about. Anthony Watson has done well on the wing, as has Jack Nowell, in a very different way. Whether they are the final answers for Lancaster, I’m not sure. There are the likes of Marland Yarde and Chris Ashton to come back. Look at Jonny May. He has shown how easy it is to play yourself out of this England team.

The consistency Lancaster hungers for has not materialised, and there is real competition for every position and not many nailed-on starters. Billy Twelvetrees, Brad Barritt, Danny Care, Owen Farrell, where do they stand? Then there are people like Alex Corbisiero, Tom Croft and Dave Attwood.

As for Saturday's game, a home one against Scotland, it is of course one England should win. Scotland will be absolutely fired up and it will be a tough encounter, but the visitors are playing schoolboy rugby.

This was meant to be the most exciting Scotland team for years but they are not meeting those expectations. They are doing at the end of games what England have been doing at the start: silly errors, missing touch, getting players sent to the sin bin with two minutes to go. The side still show real promise but you cannot make those kinds of basic error and expect to win.

England are superior in just about every position on the pitch. Even so, almost every player will be aware that he is yet to cement his place in Lancaster’s World Cup plans, and that should be motivation enough.

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