Lancaster proud of England display
9:59pm Saturday 15th March 2014 in © Press Association 2014
England head coach Stuart Lancaster says Ireland will be worthy RBS 6 Nations champions if they defeat France in Paris tonight.
A 52-11 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico has kept England in title contention, but to take Wales' crown on points difference the French must spoil Brian O'Driscoll's international farewell in the climax to the tournament.
"It would be nice to win it, but if Ireland go to France and win, and win well, they deserve it," Lancaster said.
"Ireland are a quality side and you could see from our reaction at beating them that we knew how good a side they are.
"I will look back at this Italy game, irrespective of what happens in Paris, with huge pride and great confidence in this England team."
England concluded their Six Nations with a seven-try rout of weak opposition with Mike Brown crossing twice and Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, Mako Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Robshaw also touching down.
The Red Rose have posted four successive victories since losing 26-24 in France on the opening day and Lancaster insists that even if they fail to win the title, it will have been a successful Championship.
"We've made huge progress. We played this game last year and won 18-11 with six penalties," he said.
"We have produced a big scoreline on the back of a Sunday game against Wales - opponents who emotionally and physically took a lot out of the players - with a team that has an average age of 24.
"We haven't got everything right in every game, but when you put everything into perspective we have made great progress.
"Our intent to attack, the quality of our defence and set piece has been excellent.
"We are in good shape going forward, particularly with quality additions to come back into our squad who we know already are on their way back."
Lancaster defended the decision to empty the bench, with one of his predecessors as head coach, Sir Clive Woodward, claiming the replacements robbed England of their momentum.
Tuilagi was brought on with just under half an hour to go, but oddly he displaced the superb Luther Burrell who had shredded Italy's defence on multiple occasions.
"I'm curious as to which substitute didn't add. Manu added. We make our decisions on what we're seeing," Lancaster said.
"We hadn't decided before the game what way we were going to go, but as the game unfolded we thought bringing Manu on at 13 in place of Luther would have the best impact.
"And Manu made a great impact when he came on. He scored a try, broke tackles, didn't make any defensive errors, turned the ball over in the last play which resulted in a try. He added value."
Italy have lost every match of their Six Nations and head coach Jacques Brunel admitted the Azzurri now face some searching questions.
"We started the tournament well, but didn't finish well, so we are behind where we want to be," Brunel said.
"We were struggling after 20 minutes and went backwards with this game.
"Now we have to ask if Italy can still be ambitious and ask what our goals should be."