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. And 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 "won four, lost one" record which few believed very likely.
It makes the pulse race when the mind dares to leap to the Rugby World Cup here in England in 2015. But before that, we have next year's Lions tour to Australia. Naturally, it's tempting to put together a XV in your brain; yet I shall manage to resist this fun but utterly pointless exercise.
It's always been the case that form and, thus, favour can come and go in a few weeks, never mind 15 months. And now that the youngsters are bursting through at such a pace, and, more pertinently, looking immediately comfortable on the big stage, it makes the predictions 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 rapidly reached the decision that the intensity does not stop. In the months they've been away, players have stepped up into the void and, in some cases, been very impressive. Some of these internationals may well be very young, but already they are being pushed by the new crop coming through. It really 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 becoming 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 continually 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. They have to live up to all of the potential they have shown us in these five games. 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, However, there is nothing I've seen so far which causes me to doubt this group at all.
Wales are now in a position where they want, and need, to start their dominance of the Southern Hemisphere sides. After taking home the Slam and proving their ability during this campaign, Australia will be a good challenge, one which Warren Gatland will relish.
They impressed me with the manner in which they cleared their final hurdle on Saturday. They did a professional job on the French and showed great maturity. It's time they stepped up a level and keep looking forwards. After all when you have youth on your side, everything is possible.
Even a Martian knows Lancaster is out of this world
We're still waiting for the Rugby Football Union to appoint Stuart Lancaster. I've said it before and I'll say it again – it will be crazy if they go elsewhere.
I actually find it absurd there is still a conversation about who or who won't be named Martin Johnson's permanent successor. It seems there are those who want a big name like Nick Mallett. Where have these people been the last few months? Mars. They certainly cannot have been watching England taking their huge steps forward in the Six Nations.
Not only must the RFU give Stuart the job, but they should give him the whole job and nothing less. Maybe Stuart himself wants to bring in an experienced pair of hands to assist him. Fair enough. Just so long as it's clear who is boss. There can be only one head coach and Stuart has proved he is that one. Let us pray it happens quickly. Then, of course, there will be the appointments of his coaching staff. In Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell they have a couple of gems. The whispers I've heard coming out of the camp have extolled this duo and spoken of how well they work under Stuart. The RFU must ensure this coaching team stays together as any loss could affect the England dynamic.
Rowntree is on a contract, so his situation appears blessedly settled. Farrell, however, is head coach at Saracens, who "loaned" him to England. There seems to be this belief that Farrell must choose club or country. Why?
I've never understood why the coaching staff has to be dedicated solely to England. OK it probably is wise to have at least one man – Stuart, obviously – to be holding the reins on a permanent basis. But it could even be beneficial to have a man like Farrell on a part-time contract. Being an international coach can be a frustrating experience. They spend so much time watching club rugby and get so little time – comparatively – coaching international rugby. In my experience, this frustration can manifest in over-eagerness.
So the coach is chomping at the bit to run out on the training pitch and get to work. And then proceeds to knacker out the side in a few days flat!
I have no doubt Farrell has the capability and energy to undertake both jobs and if Saracens are in agreement the RFU should not worry about having him exclusively. In this instance, less could very well mean more.
Lewis Moody is a TAG Heuer ambassador. TAG Heuer are the official watch of England Rugby
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