Lewis Moody: Win over Ireland was fantastic but I fear Six Nations Grand Slam will be beyond England
Moody Views: Lancaster has a strong nucleus of a side although there are still positions that are not nailed down
Wednesday 13 February 2013
It was attritional from start to finish, with not a try to be seen. To the average viewer it was probably pretty dull to watch, but to England and all their supporters what matters is simply that they won in Dublin. Ireland away is the type of game that you have to win if you have ambitions of succeeding in any championship or tournament. You need to win games away from home and how you do it doesn't matter, it just has to be done.
For the team it is an important milestone. England hadn't won a championship match in Ireland for 10 years, so getting that victory shows what a side they are and what levels they can reach. It is another win on the ladder, another successful step in the Stuart Lancaster project, but although England have been brilliant in this tournament – on top of that win against New Zealand – I still fear the Grand Slam might be beyond them this year.
For the entire team to maintain this level for all five games is extremely difficult, as has been proven many times over the years. It only takes one error by one person and a match can be lost. I do think they will win the Six Nations – and it will be hugely disappointing if they don't – and that would still be a huge step. This is not an easy tournament to win let alone sweep.
Owen Farrell had another good day with the boot in Dublin. Under Lancaster he has become one of the side's most consistent players – and at international level that level of consistency is really important for a coach to be able to rely on week in, week out. No he is not a Dan Carter, or a Jonny Wilkinson. He's an Owen Farrell, his own man.
He does his job, kicks his goals and keeps the scoreboard ticking over. It's that old line about beating what's in front of you and he has done that in this championship against Scotland and then Ireland. He has put the game plan into practice.
The number of players now being fed into the side and seizing the opportunity they have been given – people like Billy Twelvetrees, whose barnstorming debut has capped a remarkably quick rise to the top, Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Freddie Burns and more – is creating encouraging pressure for places in the England starting line-up.
Lancaster has the strong nucleus of a side to call upon, although there are still positions that are not nailed down. Hooker is one. Tom Youngs has done a fantastic job, Dylan Hartley is pushing hard, Launchbury has also done a good job in the second row, but Lancaster brought on Courtney Lawes early against Ireland for a different style of play. When Tom Croft is back to full fitness, how will that dynamic play out in the back row? And three into two doesn't go in the centres.
Players now have to perform in every game or there will be someone else with the quality to instantly replace them – take Alex Goode, Mike Brown and Ben Foden at 15 or Ben Youngs and Danny Care at nine. And it goes beyond the squad too. I would love to see the young Worcester Warriors openside flanker Matt Kvesic rewarded with a place in the 22 soon. Lancaster may prefer to leave Chris Robshaw well alone to grow as skipper, but Kvesic's time will come one day.
These are good dilemmas to have. This is all reflecting well on Lancaster who is overseeing victories and an encouraging level of performance. The players have bought into what he wants and have a clear understanding of what is required of them. That is very important.
He has also gathered a good set of coaches around him. Guys like Andy Farrell don't come round very often, and to have someone of his calibre who is so respected is vital. Then add the likes of Mike Catt – his experience over the years is bolstering an already very good side. Remember, too, that in coaching terms this is a young staff, one that will learn and develop too.
It will be hard for England to maintain the level of success they are currently achieving. I don't wish bad things upon them but there will be blips, that's the nature of sport and at international level it is so tough for players to maintain that focus throughout long campaigns like the Six Nations. How they react to setbacks – such as following the Australia defeat with victory over the All Blacks in the autumn – will be as important as building on victories like that which they dug out in Dublin.
Now for France. Any team that plays England raises their game – that's history for you. The lack of confidence that France have at the moment will not do them any favours, but they do have quality players in that side. It has been a complete surprise how badly they have performed. The squad is full of players who have underperformed – losing to Italy was frankly unbelievable.
The French forwards will be ready for a battle royal – we could see a couple of early scuffles just like the old days – and whoever wins the early exchanges will have that key foothold in the game. I see England winning by 10 or 12 points, beating Italy and so they will go to Wales with the Grand Slam at stake.
I have been part of England teams in the past that have lost Grand Slams in that last game. It is a tough competition; teams become desperate to stop England winning that Slam. It all has the makings of coming down to an afternoon in Cardiff – and what a game that will be.
Lewis Moody is a TAG Heuer ambassador
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