WEEKEND POLL: Lancaster hopes to lunch on win over Italy before toasting French

England's Luther Burrell celebrates scoring a try during the RBS Six Nations match at Twickenham, London.
England's Luther Burrell celebrates scoring a try during the RBS Six Nations match at Twickenham, London.
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Three years ago, England’s clinching of the Six Nations title provided a mere footnote to a grand slam dream that went up in smoke in Dublin.

Fast forward 36 months and the regaining of that title will be greeted far more triumphantly than it was when Martin Johnson’s beaten squad had to assemble in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium and feign delight when presented with the trophy.

If England defeat Italy in Rome this lunchtime, as expected, and France then topple Ireland in Paris at tea-time it will be deemed a successful end to another campaign of development under Stuart Lancaster.

It will also be the first piece of silverware of the head coach’s two-year Red Rose reign.

The trophy will not have been attained as part of a glorious grand slam, that dream having been ripped from their grasp by the French on the opening day of the championship.

But it will be tangible success nonetheless, and confirmation to a maturing team that it is capable of winning trophies.

Before the tournament began, Lancaster piled the pressure on himself and his charges by calling for silverware to be won.

He will not have liked the fact that the destination of the title is out of their hands – only Ireland are certain what a victory will mean today – but there is a chance the call can be answered.

All the talk since their landmark win over Wales at Twickenham last Sunday has been about focusing on what they can control today in the Stadio Olimpico.

Italy have been nuisance opponents for England over recent years, with less than a converted try the difference on the last two occasions they have met.

But England are on the up while Italy resemble more the factfinders of a decade ago than the robust, durable opponents they have become in recent seasons.

The only agony England might have to endure today is over the four-and-a-half hour wait for the championship to be decided.

If it does not fall England’s way today, the Six Nations as a whole can still be viewed as another step in the right direction.

As Lancaster puts it: “Since the last Six Nations I think there’s been a consistent improvement through the summer tour to 
Argentina and through to the autumn internationals.

“We beat Argentina and Australia, and also nearly defeated New Zealand again.

“So I think we’re making good progress, but we all believe we’ve got a long way to go.

“We want to finish this Six 
Nations with a really strong performance.”

The character of this England team is growing with every defeat and every victory.

This tournament has also seen players like full-back Mike Brown and lock Joe Launchbury take significant strides in their development towards becoming world-class players.

We have also seen new talents emerge, most notably Yorkshire’s Luther Burrell, who has taken to international rugby so comfortably that he has kept Manu Tuilagi – recently viewed as England’s best game breaker – on the bench.

“Hopefully I can keep playing consistently well for the team, but it’s not about me and Manu,” said 26-year-old, Huddersfield-born Burrell.

“I know when he comes on against Italy he’s going to be a very dangerous player and will bring something to the game.

“Manu is a fantastic player, but right now it is me and Billy (Twelvetrees) so I have to focus on that.

“I’m not really looking too much at Manu because if I do it is probably going to affect my game. I just want to focus on what’s happening at the moment.”

Should Tuilagi supplant Burrell in the long haul to the 2015 World Cup, then the former Leeds Carnegie player has versatility on his side, as he can also play at inside centre.

“It’s good that I’ve managed to develop at 13 because the fact I’m able to play both positions gives the coaches a headache when it comes to selection,” said Burrell, who has scored three tries in his opening four Test matches.

“I’ve had to learn quickly, and obviously from a defensive point of view it’s a lot different.

“You have got the quickest guys on the park running down that 13 channel so that transition has not been smooth.

“I have had to do a lot of homework and a lot of graft on the training park. Thankfully it has been working out.”

Against an Italian side struggling to contain their rivals, Burrell should continue to prosper.

It is also about time the other two exciting young backs who have been unearthed this Spring – Jack Nowell and Jonny May – get the tries their adventurous running has promised.

If they do, then England might just be celebrating a Six Nations title tonight, and not just accepting it.

“We are focusing on performance and getting the victory because ultimately that’s what matters,” added Burrell.

“We are under no illusion that we might have to score some points, but firstly it’s about getting the performance in and the victory.”