STATE OF THE NATION: Grand slam is within Lancaster’s grasp

The calming influence of Stuart Lancaster cannot be understated.

Twelve months ago, England were in desperate need of a steady hand on the tiller.

Chastened by an embarrassing World Cup campaign on and off the field, they had no head coach and seemingly no direction.

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Lancaster, the former Leeds player and coach, was only an interim appointment ahead of the 2012 Six Nations.

But in steering the side to four wins and a second-placed finish amid a cultural makeover, he forced his way into a coveted hot-seat few would have ever envisaged him occupying just a couple of months before.

His inexperience at this level is always going to be a stick with which his critics beat him, yet he has greeted the two big near-crises of his tenure with the grit customary of his adopted homeland of Yorkshire.

When England were staring at a whitewash on the summer tour to South Africa, they rescued the situation with a draw.

Then, after narrow defeats to Australia and the Springboks in November, Lancaster’s coup de grace on his first year in charge was that memorable evisceration of world champions New Zealand; a performance that will love long in the Twickenham memory.

All of a sudden, England, with three home games in the forthcoming Six Nations, are a good bet for a grand slam.

The World Cup draw for a tournament they host in 2015 may have not been overly favourable, with the Wallabies and Wales standing in the way of progress.

But with that quadrennial gathering taking on greater importance with each renewal, it is all about peaking then and not now.

If 2012 was about making progress then Lancaster and England accomplished that goal.

Continuing the upward trajectory is the challenge over the coming 12 months.