Sport Mike Brown of England celebrates after scoring the first try during the Six Nations match between Italy and England at the Stadio Olimpico

Another second place for England but this was a step forward from last year. Stuart Lancaster’s side have made strides over this Six Nations, even if he will be looking back at that French game and thinking what might have been.

Brian O’Driscoll is given a hero’s welcome as he arrives back at Dublin Airport on Sunday

Six Nations 2014 - France 20 Ireland 22: Jubilant Ireland want title to be springboard for life after Brian O'Driscoll

Brian O’Driscoll has never been easily flummoxed – as one of rugby’s commonly hailed greats, the eminent centre has spent a decade and a half bamboozling opponents of every calibre – but he caught himself unawares during a valedictory address to the media after Saturday’s 22-20 win in France that delivered Ireland the Six Nations Championship.

Luther Burrell crosses the line for England

England 29 Wales 18 match report: Stuart Lancaster's men enjoy their day in the sun at expense of weary Wales

England enter next weekend's finale of the Six Nations in contention for title

England coach Stuart Lancaster celebrates after the victory over Wales

England 29 Wales 18: 'We had our hearts in our mouths,' admits England coach Stuart Lancaster

England’s fate in this Six Nations is not in their own hands: if Ireland see off the French in Paris in six days’ time, their vastly superior points difference will trump anything Stuart Lancaster’s men register in beating Italy in Rome – and as the head coach acknowledged last night, Ireland are a “quality side”. But Lancaster will surely find a way of living with the frustration of a third successive runners-up finish. Winning trophies are always better than the alternative, but coming up marginally short under present circumstances would be something less than a catastrophe.

England's Courtney Lawes charges forward

England 29 Wales 18: Aggressive Courtney Lawes serves up humble pie in Six Nations victory

In one sense only, Rhys Priestland had the right idea. The Wales fly-half sat so deep in the first half at Twickenham he was almost playing in Llanelli, and though the  principal reason was doubtless something to do with a game plan based on clever kicking that never came to pass, you sensed a survival instinct at work.

Courtney Lawes has helped England win all but four of their line-outs during this Six Nations

Six Nations 2014: 'Our line-out will throw Wales out of contention,' claims England's Courtney Lawes

Courtney Lawes is clear in his mind which two teams possess the best line-outs in the Six Nations – and neither of them belongs to Wales, who are England’s next opponents. “Certainly, ours and Ireland’s are the top line-outs and we need to use that going into the Wales game,” said Lawes, who is in charge of England’s sideline set piece. “I’ve been keeping an eye on Wales’ line-outs. There’ll be a decent chance for us to put pressure on them.”

Danny Care races on to a pass from Mike Brown (on ground) to score England’s try against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday

Six Nations 2014: Stuart Lancaster’s young England side show world of promise after 13-10 win over Ireland

It could have gone horribly wrong in so many ways between the time England’s players left the team bus for their pre-match parade through the green-wellied set in the swanky west car park – who could be sure that Chris Robshaw would not do himself a mischief slipping on a sliver of smoked salmon, or tripping over a bottle of Chablis? – and the final white-knuckle moments of a memorable struggle, when Joe Launchbury somehow found the energy to make the tap-tackle that won the game, defying all rugby logic. The fact that things ultimately went so right confirmed that Robshaw and company will take an awful lot of beating when the World Cup comes to town next year.

Wing Jack Nowell will make his debut against France

Six Nations 2014: Jack Nowell and Luther Burrell to make debut as England name inexperienced back-line to take on France

Stuart Lancaster has selected a back-line with just 91 caps between them which includes debutants Nowell and Burrell

Sam Warburton is the first to sign a Welsh central contract

Wales captain Sam Warburton hopes many more will join him after signing central contract with WRU

Warburton became the first to agree a deal with the Welsh Rugby Union that will keep him playing for the Cardiff Blues

Luther Burrell trains at Pennyhill Park with England, for whom he is set to make his debut

Lewis Moody: Stuart Lancaster has shown the courage of his convictions by picking on form not reputation and I’m pleased he went with Luther Burrell

Fair play to Stuart Lancaster. Winning a first cap playing against France in Paris is a huge challenge – I cannot overemphasise what a tough, incredibly hostile setting it is to go and start your international career. It’s physically and mentally one of the most imposing places to take your first steps, but you have to admire the choice Lancaster has made for the opening game of what is a big tournament for the England coach and his side.

England are perming three from eight for their wings and full-back. Chris Ashton favours the right wing

Six Nations 2014: Chris Ashton makes way for Jack Nowell debut for England

The Exeter wing gets his chance in Paris against France

Richardt Strauss could return to the Ireland squad for the Six Nations following his rapid recovery from heart surgery

Six Nations: Ireland coach Joe Schmidt 'delighted' to have Richardt Strauss available after rapid recovery from heart surgery

Schmidt coached Strauss at Leinster and believes that his return is a bonus for Ireland ahead of the Six Nations campaign

Dylan Hartley is maturing into the England side

Six Nations: In our opinion – six pundits, one from each country, tell us who they think will win

They have all played in this annual showpiece in the past, but is it head or heart for these commentators?

Passing judgement: Dylan Hartley now believes that pushing the opposition back five metres is the way to hurt them

Six Nations: Dylan Hartley turns pacifist ahead of England-France match: ‘You can’t just punch anyone any more’

Ahead of England’s crucial first game against France, their feisty hooker admits that front-row tactics have had to change

Ian Madigan scored nine points, including a try, to give Ireland Wolfhounds a 14-8 victory over England Saxons

England Saxons 8 Ireland Wolfhounds 14: Burns nightmare adds to day of woe for Saxons

Madigan and his Leinster half-back partner Isaac Boss scored a try apiece to give Ireland second XV victory

Mirco Bergamasco last played for Italy in November 2012 before he suffered a fractured kneecap

Six Nations 2014: Mirco Bergamasco set for return to Italy squad 14 months after fracturing his kneecap

The 30-year-old utility back, now with Rovigo in his homeland, has stood out this season and earnt a recall from national coach Jacques Brunel

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