Fitting finale for BOD - Lancaster
11:42pm Saturday 15th March 2014 in © Press Association 2014
England head coach Stuart Lancaster acclaimed Ireland's coronation as RBS 6 Nations champions as the perfect way to mark Brian O'Driscoll's international retirement.
A 52-11 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico kept England in title contention until the Irish edged France 22-20 in a heart-stopping climax to the tournament in Paris.
Lancaster views Ireland as worthy champions and was delighted for O'Driscoll, the world's most capped player, who participated in the final Test of a stellar 15-year career.
"Credit to Ireland. They are deserved winners and it's a fitting finale and send-off for Brian O'Driscoll, a legend of the game who everyone in this squad respects massively," Lancaster said.
"We always knew this was going to be one of the tightest Six Nations and that it would go down to the wire."
England finished runners-up for a third successive year and were only beaten to a first title under Lancaster on points difference.
In the final table they trailed Ireland by only 10 points and had they beaten Italy by 11, they would have claimed Wales' crown for themselves.
Lancaster defended the decision to empty the bench at the Stadio Olimpico, with one of his predecessors as head coach, Sir Clive Woodward, claiming the replacements robbed England of their momentum.
Manu 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."
Man of the match Mike Brown crossed twice at the Stadio Olimpico and Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, Mako Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Robshaw also touched down.
The Red Rose have posted four successive victories since losing 26-24 in France on the opening day and Lancaster insists it has 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."
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."