Now that the dust has finally settled on the 2015 Six Nations Championship, all of the teams involved can switch their attention to the World Cup later in the year, which England will host. For rugby fans in the Northern Hemisphere it may take some time to get over the nail-biting try-fest of a day which concluded the tournament, but players and coaches will need to get back into the swing of things quickly if they are to mount a serious challenge for world glory. As it was, Wales, England and Ireland all had the trophy within their reach at one point during the final Saturday. But, in the end, it was Paul O’Connell’s men who were victorious. England will rue missed chances against Scotland, whilst Wales will wish that they had started their tournament more positively against England. But there are positives for all teams to take out of the last few months of rugby.

Unacceptable Performance

England have been roundly criticised in the media for their failure to win the Six Nations this year. Just seven more points against the French would have been enough to take the trophy back to Twickenham but it was not to be. Stuart Lancaster’s men eventually finished in second place behind Ireland, which is the fourth time in a row that they have finished runners up. The RFU chief executive, Ian Ritchie, has described the failure to win the tournament as not acceptable and he has been backed by former captain Martin Corry amongst other ex-England stars.

Face Facts

Whether England should have won or not, it is time to face facts. They must improve if they are to perform well in the World Cup and raise their betfair odds with the bookmakers. Having been drawn in a pool with Australia and Wales, they will need to be at their best right from the first kick-off or they may not even reach the knockout stages. The home crowd will spur Chris Robshaw and his team on, but they must find an extra gear if they are to compete with the likes of New Zealand. Having said all of this and accepted that improvements must be made, there are some positives that England can take out of their Six Nations campaign. They should keep these in mind when they come back together to begin their final World Cup preparations.

Strength in Depth

Injuries have dogged England’s second row for a number of seasons. Lancaster has found a pool of worthy deputies in the likes of Dave Attwood and George Kruis, who both performed manfully early in this year’s tournament and look set to challenge for World Cup spots later in the year. Despite the rise of Kruis and Attwood, England fans will have been overjoyed to see Courtney Lawes and Geoff Parling line up against France in the last game. Parling is a smart player, exceptional in the line-out and a disruptive influence at the breakdown. Lawes, meanwhile, is a pure athlete, quick, strong and with the handling ability to put team-mates in space. If Parling provides the brains, then Lawes provides the brawn. His hit on French fly-half Jules Plisson showed how much of a weapon he can be if he stays on the right side of the law. If England can also get Joe Launchbury back to full fitness then they will have some real competition for places and will arguably have the best set of second rows at the tournament.

six nations

photo by  bobaliciouslondon 

Solid Scrum

Much of England’s success in recent years has been built on a solid scrum. The 2015 Six Nations will have provided England fans with encouragement that they can continue to dominate their opponents up front. Granted the scrum was not flawless, but Dan Cole and Joe Marler look to be forming an impressive pairing as the two starting props. Coming off the bench Mako Vunipola is making a real impact and is showing that he has the ability to change games. There has never been any doubting Vunipola’s strength and size but he now looks to have developed the technical ability to warrant his place in the team. The 24-year-old may not have the legs to play for the full 80 minutes but when used in 20-25-minute spells, he can be a game breaker. With Lions star Alex Corbisiero still to return to the fold, England’s scrummage looks well set for the tournament.

Ford Outstanding

Ahead of this year’s Six Nations, there was concern that England may struggle to replace the injured Owen Farrell at fly-half. George Ford was the natural successor to the Saracens man but he was inexperienced and he was bound to be targeted by opposition runners. At 22-years-old it was easy to see why Lancaster may have had some concerns about handing the number 10 jersey over to Ford but he was one of the real success stories for England. In the days when many substitutions seem to be pre-determined and fly-halves are often removed on the hour, Ford was a near ever-present for England and he made the starting berth his own. Ford played with control but was willing to experiment and to set his backs free. He also kicked well, scoring an impressive 25 points against France, and looks certain to be England’s first choice going in to the World Cup. Ford’s half-back partnership with Ben Youngs looked promising and the two seemed to get the best out of each other. Both men have been shortlisted for the 2015 Six Nations player of the Championship award and both would be worthy winners.

Threatening Backs

Outside Ford, the England backs again began to look exciting. They created chance after chance in every game, except the defeat to Ireland, and looked like they posed a genuine threat out wide. On the wing, Jack Nowell seems to offer something different. He is a tricky, elusive runner and his power belies his size. Anthony Watson on the other flank looked dangerous in broken field. Arguably England’s best find of the tournament was Jonathan Joseph who slotted into the number 13 shirt as if he had been an international for years. Given his opportunity due to injuries to Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt, Joseph scored one try in the opening weekend victory over Wales and a further two in the subsequent win over Italy. Joseph has quick feet and pace, and he is willing to attack the smallest gap. Whatever plans Lancaster has for his centre pairing for the World Cup, Joseph must surely be there or thereabouts.

Reasons to be Cheerful

England will still be licking their wounds, having come so close to a first Championship win since 2011, but they must turn their attention to the positives that have come out of the tournament rather than focussing on their shortcomings. If the host nation can put up a strong performance in the World Cup, then the heartache of another Six Nations runners-up spot will soon be forgotten. On the basis of what we have seen over the last few weeks, there are reasons for Lancaster to be cheerful. England might just exceed expectations in the tournament that really matters this year.