STUART LANCASTER concedes he “isn’t satisfied” with England’s autumn international campaign, but believes his side have learned important lessons heading into a World Cup year.
They rounded off with a much-needed 26-17 victory over Australia at Twickenham on Saturday, easing pressure on the head coach who was coming under real scrutiny after suffering narrow defeats to New Zealand and South Africa before beating Samoa.
Lancaster, whose side will next face the Wallabies in a vital World Cup pool game at headquarters on October 3 next year, insists another loss would not have been catastrophic.
Nevertheless, he was pleased to witness a victory, with such dominance up front, that certainly leaves a brighter mood as they break up before reconvening for the Six Nations in February.
“I didn’t think it was going to be the Doomsday scenario you guys (press) would have made it,” said Lancaster, when asked to consider what a loss would have signified.
“What’s apparent to me is we’ve strong belief in what we’re doing. When you lose a couple of games your culture and everything you stand for can be challenged.
“People start questioning what you do internally but there was none of that. Even the players who weren’t involved this weekend were very positive and contributed. That’s when you really get tested; when the pressure’s on, can you hold it together? I always had a strong sense of belief we’d put in a good performance.”
England, with No 8 Ben Morgan scoring twice, captain Chris Robshaw ruling the breakdown and George Ford’s tactical kicking superb, certainly did that in their best showing of the autumn.
Lancaster was pleased with the manner in which his side stuck to his game plan, something he admits has not always been true.
“More important for me was a recognition where we’d gone wrong in those first two games in critical moments, particularly decison-making,” he said.
“We didn’t play a wet-weather game (previously) in wet weather. Here we played a far more intelligent game that suited our strengths. It’s probably as tough an autumn series as we’ve had.
“To go New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa – probably the top second-tier team – and then Australia. It was a test we needed. I’d probably have chosen a different order but we’ve come through it. I wouldn’t say we’re satisfied. We’ve learned a lot.”
England played a more restrained style, not forcing the ball wide needlessly and instead making the most of the yields created by their impressive pack.
It is a departure from some of their earlier football under Lancaster, but the ex-Leeds Carnegie chief added: “We need to make sure we’ve got all the tools in the box and then pick the right tool at the right time.
“Wet weather rugby is part of that in the World Cup and I don’t think we did that as well as we could have done in the first two.
“But I thought (on Saturday) the right way to play was to put the ball behind them as we knew Australia were always going to run out. If you get your defence right, they’d run out of energy, you’d turn them over and put pressure on them again and win the game.
“The plan was put to the players, they applied it and we won.
“That is the most positive thing as in the New Zealand and South Africa games we probably deviated a little bit from the plan.
“Perhaps in hindsight I should have been a little bit stronger on making it clear what it is.”
He backed his decision to alter his centre pairing for a third successive week adding it was “unfair” to label his selection defensive.
Billy Twelvetrees was the latest to take the No 12 shirt alongside Brad Barritt in what many had seen as an overly defensive duo.
“You certainly need someone who can defend well at 13,” he added. “With Manu (Tuilagi) and Luther Burrell injured, Brad Barritt is the stand-out player. Look at his contribution.
“But it’s not favoured one way or another really (defence and attack). We’ve got two exciting wingers and we certainly don’t want to just defend all the time.
“We want to score tries and of the 26 tries prior to (Saturday) 21 came from backs and 13 from the back three; I don’t think we are a one-trick side.”
Wales and the Cardiff cauldron await in their Six Nations opener on February 6 and Lancaster admitted: “The week before we play them is crucial, getting that right and how we manage that time.
“The boys will come in off a big European weekend, train three days and that time is critical when you meet up. We need to be more effective with that than perhaps we were this time.”
Match report: Page 7.