England’s captain, Jamie George, says his unbeaten side can be genuine Six Nations title contenders despite the stiffer challenges still awaiting them. Having squeezed past Wales and Italy by two and three points respectively, England now have to go to Scotland and France, and face an in-form Ireland at Twickenham, but George believes his squad could yet rise to the challenge.
“I don’t think it is a huge leap,” said George, whose squad had won only three of their previous 10 home games. “Obviously we have got three difficult games coming up but I don’t think we are in a place to say it needs to be a quantum leap to get a load better. We are two from two and we know we have got a huge amount of growth left in the squad so our focus is on making sure we optimise that. The fight and the character, to come out on the positive end of that result, is a huge step for us.”
George did acknowledge, however, that England will have to improve to topple Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday week, let alone Ireland, who they have not defeated since 2020. “We know we are going to need to get better going up to Murrayfield,” said George. “The foundations that we have laid has allowed us to have some belief. We need to utilise this fallow week to rest up, then focus on getting better.”
It was the first time England have ever come back from a deficit of nine points or more at home to win a senior Test and the Wales coach, Warren Gatland, was left to lament his team’s failure to nail down a morale-boosting victory.
“It’s pretty disappointing really,” said Gatland. “I’m proud of the performance and the effort of the players but we’re disappointed we didn’t come away with the win. I said to the players in the changing room that we have to be disappointed by that. We put ourselves in a position where we should have won that game.”
Gatland also believes his side will learn important lessons from this near miss. “I said to the players we’re not there but we’re going to be a bloody good team going forward. Today was part of that process in terms of learning about game management.
“When England are down to 13 men you don’t play in your own 22. You’re probably thinking there’s an opportunity to play territory, get the ball down there and squeeze them a little bit. I won’t be critical of any individuals because I’ve been through this before with other teams. It just takes a little bit of time.
“They’ve made a massive amount of progress in a few weeks and put themselves in a position to win today. In fairness to England, they went to a kicking strategy in the second half and got some reward. We made some errors in the second half that allowed them some territory and position.”
The England head coach, Steve Borthwick, also highlighted the contribution of England’s bench to the final outcome, with George Martin, Manu Tuilagi and Luke Cowan-Dickie all in the frame to boost the squad ahead of the Calcutta Cup clash.
“I always sensed from the players there was a confidence to find the way to get the result. Last week and today we’ve seen the second half performance consistently improve. This is a team that stays in the fight and a team that finds a way.
“At half-time we were very composed. We had belief we would go on and find a way.”