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Sir Ian McGeechan

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England can win in New Zealand

England will be very pleased with where they stand after this Six Nations. They are definitely a better side than they were in the autumn and I think that they can go to New Zealand with confidence this summer.

Of course, it is crazy that they cannot field a full-strength side in the first Test because of the Aviva Premiership final the weekend before. But I do think that they could sneak one of the other two Tests they play against the All Blacks.

And what a massive statement it would be were they to do that. This season has been the first time they have won the Triple Crown since 2003 and back then England went to New Zealand and Australia before winning the World Cup and won in Wellington and Melbourne.

So if they went to New Zealand now and won, with over a year to go and with their game only likely to go upwards and develop further, it might be even more impressive than then.

I am not saying that England are the finished article just yet, but that very fact must be a little bit frightening for everyone else. This team is probably only 75 per cent of where it would expect to be in 12 months time. It is a very fine team that will just evolve further. With their pack they can make it difficult for anybody now.

I have said it before but that pack is now as good as anything around and they have players missing who can come back in. Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole and Billy Vunipola are all waiting to return, but Joe Marler, David Wilson and Ben Morgan have all proved how good they are in their places. There is some real depth there. Also what about Tom Croft and Geoff Parling? They were two starters for the British and Irish Lions only last summer, remember.

England have got two big ball-carrying eights now in Vunipola and Morgan. That is such a boon. With those two you know that you have got real presence in the middle of the back row. It is exactly what England lacked last season once Morgan was injured.

Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes have formed a remarkable and powerful partnership in the second row. I think they are going to be one of the best partnerships in world rugby. They have made the difference in how the pack looks.

Launchbury’s work rate and Lawes’ defence have been outstanding. Lawes might have to learn to time his pass a bit better, but the key thing is that he is getting into good positions, so as a coach you can always work on that. England definitely have the best defence in the Six Nations now. Their speed into position is far quicker than it was, even in the autumn Tests.

They challenge sides even to get to the gain-line, let alone over it. Their first-up tackles are so positive that they take all the momentum away from an attack. 

Even against Ireland when they were under tremendous pressure, it was only Ireland’s driving mauls that were getting them on the front foot. Defence coach Andy Farrell will be so happy with the work being done. It is an aggressive defence, but an intelligent one too.

England also have a collective resilience now. That is in attack as well as defence. They are prepared to take risks and everyone is buying into that.

The backs are not quite at the same stage of their development as the forwards, but there is a greater consistency to their game now. Centre Luther Burrell gets stronger every game, and he has a good understanding with Billy Twelvetrees.

England are being patient with Twelvetrees. Some of his passing still requires work. I would still prefer him to pass first and run second, to not be afraid of giving the ball early and then getting his hands on it twice. Sometimes he runs too far, too early and that takes the continuity out of the attack. But you can still see definite progress with him.

The upshot of that is that Owen Farrell is more relaxed at fly-half. It is the first time in is international career that he has been with a consistent midfield. Danny Care is also taking pressure off him at scrum half, which is also helping. You cannot overstate the importance of having four settled players in those four positions of the two half-backs and two centres.

Having said that, Manu Tuilagi came off the bench to score and that raises some interesting questions going forward. If he is to play at centre, I think it would have to be at 12 but that would change the dynamic of England’s play considerably, as it would if Burrell went to 12 and Tuilagi at 13 because both are very different players from Twelvetrees.

There is the option of playing Tuilagi on the wing, and I could see that happening. With all the ball carriers England already have in Lawes, Burrell, and both Mako and Billy Vunipola (or Morgan), imagine having Tuilagi in the backfield running off one of their shoulders or take a ball up that they can run off.

I really like the fact that this England side are prepared to have a crack. And that is typified by full-back Mike Brown, who is my player of the championship, with another two tries to his name. He is brave, competitive, dangerous with the ball, is prepared to play on the edge and has an incredible work rate with and without the ball. He is without doubt, one of the reasons why England are playing with such a positive approach.

Stuart Lancaster and his other coaches must be delighted with what has happened because they could have gone into themselves a little bit after losing in France. But they did not. Scotland may have helped them a little bit with the team they picked at Murrayfield in the second match, but they came back with some really positive rugby. The two home games against Ireland and Wales were the key testers and they came through them superbly.

They were under pressure against Ireland but they held together well, which was in contrast with what happened in Cardiff last year when they fell apart. In contrast against Ireland and Wales, you could see a unity running through the team about what they were trying to do.

Mentally they have come on so much. It has been good to watch.