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Lancaster: We are on course for World Cup
Tom Hamilton
March 22, 2015
Stuart Lancaster says England are still on course for the World Cup © Getty Images
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Stuart Lancaster's immediate reaction to the drama of the final day of the Six Nations was to seek a darkened room to collect his thoughts but as the dust settles on the most eventful of finishes to a championship, the England coach is adamant they are heading in the right direction ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

As 13 of England's players joined forces in an attempt to force France back over the line for a championship-clinching try, Twickenham dared to dream. But moments later the ball had been hoofed into touch and England were Six Nations bridesmaids for the fourth year running. The immediate reaction to their 20-point win over France was bittersweet. There was a huge element of pride but a lamentation over the chances they let slip.

The sub-plot to this championship was the tournament lying in wait later this year. September 18 is the date when the time for preparation is over as England host Fiji in the opening match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and although England's Six Nations campaign ended once again in frustration, Lancaster believes England are in a good place.

"We've beaten Australia, we've beaten Wales, we've put 55 points on France. New Zealand we've beaten before and pushed them close in the summer series," Lancaster said. "So, absolutely [England are still capable of winning World Cup].

"You saw the influence the crowd had on the players today. Playing at home is a huge factor as well. With a good three months inside us after a World Cup camp where we can work on our cohesion. Tries like Jack Nowell's try towards the end...that was a pretty well executed back play. It wasn't just poor defence by France. That's credit to Catty [Mike Catt], Wig [Graham Rowntree] and Faz [Andy Farrell] and the work they've done collectively across the board."

 
"We'll make sure the players are put under that sort of Test match pressure; we have two high quality teams now and you can replicate the intensity on training alone"
 

It was a championship where it came down to fine margins. Lancaster will look to their impressive win in Cardiff, a victory that brought with it hopes of a Grand Slam, but will also reflect on England's inability to counter Ireland's kicking game. Adding heart to England's World Cup preparations are the players waiting in the wings.

"There has always been a huge sense of belief that we are going in the right direction. The challenges we faced with the injury situation leading into Wales didn't dent that belief. From what I see in training I see a tight connected group who are improving all the time. Clearly we are still a bit young, light on experience, particularly in the back line. That will improve with the likes of Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, and Manu [Tuilagi] being available, all of whom will be playing in the next few weeks we hope."

Lancaster, who will now go on holiday, will keep a close eye on the rest of the Aviva Premiership season while monitoring the return of those who have been absent. Lancaster will name his World Cup training squad - which will be I the region of 45 players - in mid-May with the squad meeting on June 22 for the first stage of their training camp. The match against the Barbarians, the day after the Premiership final, will feature younger players, and the first of their three warm-up matches in August will be used to give those on the fringes of the team an opportunity.

Lancaster has a good idea of his 31-man World Cup squad but those on the outside will be given a chance to impress in that first match against France on August 15 with their preferred starting XV likely to be given a run out in their second match versus France a week and then the final warm-up against Ireland on September 5.

"I know a World Cup isn't won by 15 players, it's won by 31. A lot of my priority will go on making sure that's the right 31. Some lads have not had the chance to put their hands up. Alex Corbisiero is a good example. He's a world-class loose-head but through injury has not been able to put his best foot forward. It would be unfair to say he'll always remain as third-choice. Danny Care could also come back into the equation over the next few months.

"From a selection point of view, we will use the first one [against France at Twickenham on August 15] to look at wider options. As you narrow down to the second game, the World Cup squad and the Ireland game, they'll be proper games then. We'll spend a lot of time with proper 15 on 15 games internally anyway. We'll make sure the players are put under that sort of Test match pressure; we have two high quality teams now and you can replicate the intensity on training alone."

After the three warm-up games comes the real thing when England face Fiji on September 18. Then come the pool-defining matches against Wales and Australia. It is a fiercely difficult group but Lancaster is confident England will reach the knockout stages.

"It's going to be high stakes when those games come around. The margins [in the games] between those three teams will be crucial and perhaps the other games you play in the pool will be a factor in it as well. Even Fiji first up is going to be a big challenge when they get all their best players available and they've had a three-month training camp leading into it. They will certainly be far more organised. Whoever comes out of it has done well."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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