Six Nations 2014: Time for humility in house of Lancaster

England's players and fans need to keep expectations in check ahead of assault on the World Cup

It will not have escaped the notice of Mike Brown, England's serial man-of-the-match award winner in the Six Nations Championship, and an exultant double try-scorer in Italy yesterday, that his next assignment in the white jersey will be against the All Blacks in June. If the Harlequins full-back can wear that winning snarl of his in the lair of the world's best, England will truly begin to believe in their World Cup chances in 2015, having finished in second place in the Six Nations for the fifth time in seven years.

On England's summer tour – three Tests in Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch, plus a midweek date with the Crusaders – their aims will be victory, of course, but also to keep their game plan, pride and personnel intact. They will be obliged to play the first Test without the players from the clubs who have reached the Aviva Premiership final a week beforehand; and that might rule out Brown and his fellow Harlequins such as Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Joe Marler.

At the moment, Saracens and Northampton are in pole position, so England might enter Auckland's Eden Park, with Bath's fly-half George Ford making his first start for his country. After a few minutes as a substitute against Wales, when he hugged his pal Owen Farrell as he came on, and a further 10 minutes in Rome yesterday, coming on as the pivot with the Saracens No 10 shifted to inside centre, this would be Ford facing the world champions at their greatest fortress. Wow.

Brown has mixed memories of Auckland: fined and reprimanded after a night out there on England's 2008 tour, he was cast into the international wilderness and not selected for the 2011 World Cup when Delon Armitage and Ben Foden were the men in possession. That chequered past is another country, right now. Brown is in his pomp and he epitomises this England's insistence on breaking the gainline at every turn, whether by a single metre or many. The team is more than the sum of their parts, even if some of the parts remain faulty.

The defence is cohesive, daunting and dominant. In attack, the passing has lapses, and wasted overlaps are a running sore. Most fascinatingly, if we accept Wales have to an extent been "worked out" by opponents after six years of Warren Gatland's coaching, you can bet the tactics employed by Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, will be analysed to the nth degree by the New Zealanders and others as England go through the 15 matches remaining before the World Cup at home in 2015.

The assertion on Friday by Lancaster's right-hand man, Andy Farrell, that England have options to keep the opposition guessing will be tested by the best. The autumn brings New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia to Twickenham.

Before we go too mad in praise, remember England's Six Nations efforts have made no difference to their world ranking: still fourth behind New Zealand, South Africa (the last team Lancaster's men have yet to beat) and Australia. By losing only to France in this Six Nations they have reprised the specialism of England from 1996 to 2002, when they lost one Championship match each season. Four times out of seven, it cost them the title. But we all know what happened in 2003.

England must not get carried away. Sponsors and supporters will flock to England and fawn around them. Happy selfies with Daniel Craig or Manchester United players are fine on a celebratory occasion such as last week's Triple Crown. But other than when the magnificent Courtney Lawes is soaring in the line-out, or flying headlong to cut down a fly-half, feet must be kept on the ground. Lancaster's ongoing hunt for humility must continue.

The weight of numbers of England's ball carriers give time to Farrell and Care. The occasionally petulant Farrell's show and go, even if slightly mechanical, is grand evidence of his confidence to go with his goal-kicking. Of course, the funny thing about a settled team – England used only 18 starters in this Championship – is it can raise doubt about the reserves. Mako Vunipola's scrummaging needs work. There may be opportunities on the wings for the recently injured Marland Yarde and Christian Wade, while Alex Corbisiero and Dan Cole may return to the front row.

Overall, the first-choice line-up appears at least two-thirds settled, or comfortably covered. Handy additions would be a hooker back-up for Dylan Hartley to dovetail seamlessly with the line-out jumpers and an understudy to Robshaw. It was precisely this time last year, after the crushing loss in Cardiff, that the captain said: "It's tough but as hard as it is to lose to Wales, we must learn from it." England have done that, and then some.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine