Home advantage can help lay down marker for World Cup campaign

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England have captured the Six Nations title four times in the modern era but never have they actually won the Six Nations championship on home soil.

The trophy has been lifted by the victorious captain in Edinburgh once and Dublin three times since the tournament expanded in 2000, but they have yet to celebrate a title triumph at their Twickenham home.

England coach Stuart Lancaster. Picture: John Walton/PA Wire

England coach Stuart Lancaster. Picture: John Walton/PA Wire

Even when they have won it, those celebrations have been muted.

On all but one of those occasions they lost that final game which meant while winning the Six Nations crown, the grand slam – which was the big prize – eluded them.

The grand slam dream collapsed for this current vintage in Dublin – a familiar theme – at the beginning of March, but by virtue of a win over Scotland that should have been considerably more emphatic, England have the chance to do something they have not done in a long time, win and lift the Six Nations title at Twickenham today.

“It was difficult after Ireland (2011) because it was all about winning the grand slam,” reflected James Haskell this week, a member of the team beaten 24-8 at the Aviva Stadium, who were then presented the trophy in the lobby of their Dublin hotel in front of a bellboy and a receptionist.

“To win the Six Nations title was almost like a second prize.

“That’s what makes this such a big opportunity today, to get the win and enjoy the moment.

“Winning a Six Nations on home soil is such a rare thing.”

Not only would achieving that today be the perfect tonic heading into the World Cup which kicks off in six months’ time, but it would also be a great vindication for all the positive strides England have made under Stuart Lancaster.

Silverware is the only thing missing from Lancaster’s CV and, ultimately, come the end of this year, it is what he and the team will be judged on.

The World Cup is obviously the ultimate prize, but a Six Nations title cannot be undervalued, given how much physical and mental exertion is put into the annual northern hemisphere championship.

Victory today over France by a handsome enough points margin to keep Ireland and Wales at bay will fill England with immeasurable confidence going forward.

The habit of winning trophies is intoxicating, and delivering on the final day here will imbue them with a self-belief that they can go and do the same again when the Webb Ellis trophy is on the line in the autumn.

It will also have a knock-on effect on the 80,000 or so in the stands who file into Twickenham full of hope for tournament after tournament, just waiting to be repaid with glory.

A genuine belief from outside the bubble of England, where ‘taking the positives’ is an oft-repeated response to the various setbacks that have stunted their progress under Lancaster, will also be of a benefit.

It only requires the squad of players to believe in what they are doing to actually win trophies, but an unwavering confidence cascading down the steep banks at headquarters, and from every corner of the English union landscape, cannot hurt.

It would also send out a message to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa that England carry the biggest threat from the European countries when the world’s best reconvene on these shores in September and October.

But regardless of what lies ahead this year, winning the Six Nations title alone should be a big enough incentive for England’s players.

Despite their status in world rugby, the fact that they are the best resourced union in the game, and they are the last northern hemipshere country to win the World Cup, their record in the Six Nations since 2003 has been poor.

They have won the championship only once – in 2011. In that time, Wales have won it four times, three of which were grand slams.

France have achieved the clean sweep in two of their four title-winning years and Ireland have a grand slam and last year’s title to their name. Those three nations have delivered when it matters most, while England, so often, have come up short.

Another near-miss today, when they are in the box-seat in terms of points difference (four better than Ireland and 25 ahead of Wales), would continue the trend of recent years and add weight to the theory that England choke on the big occasion. Just as a title triumph today can give the team, the coaching staff and the country genuine belief, so a defeat, or a failure to win the title because their profligacy last week against Scotland has come back to bite them, will have a damaging effect on morale going forward.

As significant a game as this is in terms of the destination of the silverware, its context in the grand scheme of World Cup year will be far-reaching.

This is England’s last competitive game before they open Pool A and the World Cup at Twickenham on Friday, September 18.

Lancaster’s men are 80 minutes away from knowing whether they have six months to dwell on another ‘what if’, or half a year to revel in the status of Six Nations champions and a host country going into a World Cup with the winning habit.