Unbeaten England yet to peak
Sun, 24 Feb 2013 11:55
The Grand Slam doesn't cross people's minds
England coach Stuart Lancaster said there was more to come from his youthful side after they moved closer to a Six Nations Grand Slam with a 23-13 victory over World Cup finalists France at Twickenham on Saturday.
"Our players know they have been through a very tough 80 minutes. France brought their 'A' game and put us under a lot of pressure," said Lancaster.
"It shows a great level of maturity for a young side, average age of 24, 200-odd caps, that's it, and playing a side that's been to a World Cup final and have lots of world-class players and 500 caps in their side."
While the ultimate goal for Lancaster is to guide the team to Webb Ellis Cup glory when England stage the 2015 World Cup, the short-term outlook remains hugely encouraging.
In beating a vastly improved France, who having been installed as pre-tournament favourites now find themselves languishing at the bottom of the Six Nations table after three straight defeats, England continued to make good on the promise they showed in a record-breaking 38-21 win over the All Blacks at Twickenham in December.
They started the Six Nations with contrasting wins over Scotland (38-18) and away to Ireland (12-6) but France proved their sternest opponents of the Championship thus far.
In a match of brutal breakdown battles and fearsome collisions, France led 10-9 at half-time after a superb solo try from Wesley Fofana was converted by scrumhalf Morgan Parra, who also kicked a penalty.
But England, with flyhalf Owen Farrell landing four penalties and replacement stand-off Toby Flood kicking two more late on, established a decisive seven-point lead early in the second half through Manu Tuilagi.
The centre scored England's only try when he ran in from 40 metres although there was an element of good fortune in that South African referee Craig Joubert ignored an apparent ruck offence in the build-up.
Since Lancaster took charge last year, a constant figure in England's progress has been the man he installed as captain - Chris Robshaw.
The openside flank, criticised for poor decision-making in November defeats by Australia and South Africa, produced another towering display that saw him named man of the match.
"Chris was outstanding in his leadership and his ability to make correct decisions under pressure, as a player as well as a captain," said Lancaster.
England haven't completed a Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003 but now only Italy and defending champions Wales stand in their way.
However, the 26-year-old Robshaw insisted: "The Grand Slam doesn't cross people's minds, our feet are firmly on the ground."
Robshaw also paid tribute to the powerful Tuilagi, on the field for the full 80 minutes after being recalled in place of Billy Twelvetrees to counter a French midfield featuring the giant figure of Mathieu Bastareaud.
Tuilagi, who on his last Test start scored one and created two of England's three tries against the All Blacks, finished the match with 19 stitches in a left ear ripped open by an early tackle.
"Manu was great today," Robshaw said. "You could really see his power and physicality. He wanted to prove a point and he did that. He was exceptional."
Ahead of this game, Lancaster had highlighted the importance of his bench and his words were proved correct, with England's replacements having far more of an impact than their French counterparts.
"We were always confident that our bench would come on in the last 20 minutes and we would see the fruits of our labour," Lancaster explained.
"I'm definitely happy with the strength in depth we've got," said Lancaster. "The good thing going into the Italy match is that we have got some selection decisions to make, bringing on [hooker] Tom Youngs for Dylan Hartley or [prop] Mako Vunipola for Joe Marler or [scrum-half] Danny Care for Ben Youngs."
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