Six Nations 2015: England warned over complacency after Cardiff

Rowntree says win will mean nothing if Italy are not brushed aside on Saturday

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At any other moment, in any other season, the news that a line-out specialist as accomplished as the British & Irish Lions Test lock Geoff Parling had failed to survive a training session might have given the England management a serious bout of the blues.

On Tuesday, as the red-rose squad continued to savour their Six Nations victory in Wales, the latest injury bulletin seemed nothing more than a minor irritation.

Stuart Lancaster and his fellow coaches wanted Parling back in time to face Italy at Twickenham on Saturday – in a perfect world, they would have had Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Ed Slater available too – and the influential Leicester forward would have challenged hard for a place in the match-day squad for the date with the Azzurri had he proved his fitness after a bout of knee trouble. But with Dave Attwood of Bath playing the best rugby of his career and George Kruis of Saracens barely missing a beat in his early exposure to international competition, there was no obvious need for Lancaster to ring the Samaritans.

If there is a problem in the England camp, it is one of managing expectations – which was precisely what Graham Rowntree, the forwards coach, set about doing as a matter of urgency in light of his pack’s ruthless subjugation of a highly regarded Welsh unit full of Lions tourists. With no delicate selection issues to talk through, the old Leicester hard-head narrowed his eyes and concentrated on Italy’s nasty habit of forcing the pace at the set piece and refusing to buckle in defence, arguing that this was more than enough to concentrate minds ahead of the second round of championship matches.

“Cardiff was a famous night for us – one of the peaks of our time together under Stuart,” he said. “But it will mean nothing unless we reach those heights again against Italy. Collectively, I thought the pack were outstanding at the Millennium Stadium, but you know what I’m like: there’s always a couple of things that need addressing. I’m looking for perfection and we’re not there yet. Until we are, I won’t accept any ‘world-class’ label.”

Perfection being just a little hard to come by, had Rowntree ever played in, coached or witnessed a forward unit of the faultless variety? “Yes, I’ve seen such packs,” he responded, identifying the New Zealand eight that gave England such a torrid 40 minutes or so in Hamilton last summer as an example. “As a coach I want a very low error count, consistency of application, an outstanding scrum, reliable line-out delivery and brilliant breakdown speed. That’s what the New Zealanders brought to the last Test of the series back in June. And as I say, we’re not there at the moment.”

England head coach Stuart Lancaster

If Rowntree does not waste too many waking hours worrying about life away from the bump-and-grind aspect of the sport – asked whether the centres Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond had trained fully after injury, he said he “thought so” but couldn’t be sure – his message about the importance of backing up last Friday’s performance this weekend is certainly percolating through the backs. Luther Burrell, a solid contributor at inside centre against Wales following his move from  the No 13 position, was among those completely “on message”.

He described the Millennium Stadium experience as “100 per cent up there with the best moments of my career”, but added: “Now, it’s time to see what we can learn from the game before putting it to bed.” One of those lessons has its roots in events before the match rather than during it: the much discussed stand-off in the tunnel, during which the England captain, Chris Robshaw, refused to take the field until he was assured that the Welsh would not be far behind.

“As a side, we couldn’t afford to let the game come to us – we had to go out there and meet it head on,” Burrell explained. “We’re a tight band of brothers and we have each others’ backs.”

Along with everyone else involved in Cardiff, the Northampton midfielder has held his place in an unchanged party for the visit of the perennial tournament underdogs. Lancaster acknowledged on Monday that the starting line-up effectively picked itself, and even though the likes of Barritt – very much a go-to man during the autumn internationals – and Eastmond, a key figure in an exciting Bath back division, are up and running again, there was no appetite for tinkering with the bench.


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