England boss Steve Borthwick insists he is excited about his players’ World Cup potential as he begins a thorough inquest into an underwhelming Guinness Six Nations campaign.
The Red Rose ended the championship with two wins and three defeats for the third successive year after suffering a 29-16 loss to Grand Slam champions Ireland in Dublin.
England’s display at the Aviva Stadium was vastly improved from the round-four Twickenham humiliation at the hands of France as they battled gamely against the world’s top-ranked team, despite losing full-back Freddie Steward to a red card just before half-time.
Yet results and performances over the past seven weeks have given little indication that Borthwick’s side will be a major force come this autumn’s global tournament in France.
The former Leicester head coach, who replaced Eddie Jones in December, is looking forward to having more time to work with his squad and believes there are encouraging signs for the future.
“We’ll debrief this Six Nations thoroughly, we’ll take what lessons we take from it and be clear on our direction going forward,” said Borthwick.
“I’ve already said that there is a gap (to the top nations). The team is not where it could be and, while we’re judging against teams that have used this four-year cycle tremendously well, that’s not what has happened with England, that’s not the position England are in. I can’t do anything about the past.
“I intend we will be working really hard to put England in the best position possible and I’m excited about what these players can do for the World Cup.”
England finished fourth in the competition – behind Ireland, France and Scotland.
The visitors led for most of the first half of Saturday evening’s contest against the in-form Irish thanks to the first two of Owen Farrell’s three penalties.
However, after hooker Dan Sheehan crossed to move Ireland ahead, Steward was dismissed for colliding with the head of rival full-back Hugo Keenan.
A week on from losing 53-10 to the French, depleted England did not cave but were ultimately comfortably beaten following further tries from Robbie Henshaw, Sheehan and Rob Herring, with Jamie George grabbing a consolation.
“We get a number of weeks to prepare (for the World Cup), players will then be conditioned for international rugby, players will understand how we want to play,” said Borthwick.
“This has been a fabulous tournament, five intense games and effectively you then have one main training session a week.
“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to work with the players for a longer period of time and I think we can make some growth.
“I think we’ve seen some growth here but I think we will see more in that preparation period.”