Time for Lancaster’s England to finally deliver the silverware

England head coach Stuart Lancaster.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster.

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For all the talk of progress and development on the road to the World Cup, there is one issue that stands out like a sore thumb.

England have no silverware to their name.

They have not won the Six Nations for three years, when their journey towards capitulation in New Zealand was gathering pace.

Stuart Lancaster has done a tremendous job restoring the faith in the national team with his sweeping cultural reforms and smattering of creditable results.

His win percentage is 66 per cent, an admirable return but when you are the best-resourced union in the world it could, and should, be better.

The way in which he eradicated the poisonous nature of the hangover from the Martin Johnson era is arguably his biggest result to date. Lancaster reminded his players that representing England is an honour, something that had been taken for granted in the past.

It certainly paved the way for results that shook the world order, like that 38-21 destruction of the All Blacks 14 months ago.

The former schoolteacher is a first-class communicator with a clear vision of how he wants England to progress.

He has a talented group of on-field leaders, men who, if they make mistakes, have the confidence and coach’s backing to make amends the following week.

The strength in depth is impressive. He spoke at length during an autumn when they beat Australia and Argentina and frightened the life out of New Zealand that he is heavily stacked in all positions.

With the injuries he has had to contend with, he has needed to be.

A glance at the back division for today’s opener in Paris underlines how far he is having to reach into the pool of resources he is developing. The men wearing Nos 11, 13 and 14 have just one cap between them.

That is one of the cornerstones of Lancaster’s reign, his fearless aproach to blooding uncapped players, no matter how young. If they are good enough, they are old enough, has been his mantra ever since he named seven rookies in his match-day 23 for his first game in charge at Murrayfield two years ago.

In his time in the spotlight, Lancaster’s England have become adept at finding ways to win, as they proved in last year’s Six Nations championship, when for the second year in succession under the former Leeds Carnegie player and coach, they won four of their five games.

Four wins from five is good, but no-one holds a parade for good.

Not many will recall the four-try destruction of Scotland on the opening weekend, the wins over France and Italy and the plucky victory in Dublin when they faced an Ireland team buoyed by their triumph against the Welsh at the Millennium Stadium the previous week.

What people remember when they look back on last year’s Six Nations is the crackling tension of the Cardiff cauldron last March when England’s grand slam ambitions unravelled in spectacular fashion.

In a cynical way, it sums up England – reason for optimism being blown away.

For all the progress, crowning glories have eluded the Red Rose under Lancaster.

As England move into year three of the Lancaster revolution, with the end game of the 2015 World Cup on home soil now into the second half of the cycle, the time has come to turn promise and potential into tangible silverware.

Close but no cigars will not cut it.

Lancaster and England need to be the team blowing smoke in their rivals’ faces.

Lancaster’s reign has reached a critical juncture.

There are only 20 games to go until the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and the time for forming a clear game plan and turning that into trophies is upon us.

To that end, a first grand slam campaign in 11 years would be the perfect tonic as England head towards a three-match tour of New Zealand in June and a last autumn against the southern hemisphere heavyweights, with a spring in their step and fire in their bellies.

To achieve that, England need to continue showing they possess different ways to win a Test match. They need to turn fitful bursts of expansive rugby into more sustained periods, and ones that are conducted deeper into opposition territory.

They need to get the ball working quickly out of rucks and scrums, and they need to give the ball to their new-look wingers Jonny May and Jack Nowell, less they make them redundant and ripe for scapegoating like Chris Ashton has become.

They need to turn halves of dominance as they showed in all three games in the autumn, into longer periods of control. The route to a grand slam this year for Lancaster’s men goes through Paris, Edinburgh and Rome with just two games in south east London. One of those is against Wales, the only northern hemisphere team to defeat England in Lancaster’s two years at the helm. That they are in England’s pool for the 2015 World Cup merely adds spice to the fixture.

The Welsh dragons hold a hex over the English that will only be strengthened by the fact that successful Lions coach Warren Gatland is back calling the shots.

That fixture on the penultimate weekend of the championship, March 9, will be as significant a game as any England will play this year. The journey begins this evening in Paris and there is no margin for error.

Lancaster has won the faith of the nation, now is the time to start winning trophies.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk

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