|Sean O'Brien (back row) scoring a try in Ireland's 40-10 win over Scotland, as|
they narrowly retained their Six Nations crown. Photo: Wales Online
However, when it came to the final arithmetic, it was Ireland who won their second successive championship by a mere six points-score difference, having also beaten England on points difference a year ago. There are many different ways of looking at the final outcome of the championship but my conclusion is that Ireland won because they have a winning mentality, instilled by a coach (New Zealander Joe Schmidt, appointed in 2013) who possesses a winning mentality. England, by contrast, missed out because they and, by extension, their coach (Stuart Lancaster, appointed after the 2011 World Cup) do not - yet - have it. For England, the disappointment was not in yesterday's result or performance (of which they can be very proud) but in the wider context; they have now been runner-up in the championship four years running and 2015 was the second time in three years that they had led going into the final day (though they did have the most difficult opponents). To miss out yet again will be a disappointment, however gallantly it was achieved (and they were also very impressive in 2014). Lancaster has not, to my knowledge, won a single major trophy as a coach; Schmidt, by contrast, had already won two Heineken Cups (rugby's equivalent of the Champions' League, renamed and restructured for this season) and a Pro12 title (league championship title for teams in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy) for Leinster; and a Top 14 (French league) title (as assistant coach) with Clermont Auvergne before joining Ireland.
|Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has also guided his team to No 3 in|
the world rankings. (C) Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile/Corbis
With Lancaster's England then, the question is - can a winning mentality be taught? At times, even on Saturday against France, I felt they looked a little bit anxious; were trying to force the play a little. This is what the French exploited in their counter-attacking tries. Against Scotland a week earlier, England spurned a serious of try-scoring opportunities, having done the hard work in making the line breaks and creating them. I suspect the best way of overcoming this would be for the team to finally win a trophy; that sweet taste of ultimate victory would, in my view, help them overcome their demons and help them to develop their mentality as a result. Looking at other sports, Andy Murray - for example - was able to develop that winning mentality after winning both Olympics gold and the US Open in 2012, going on to win Wimbledon the following year. Spain's breakthrough win at Euro 2008 ushered in a golden era of three successive major international trophies (the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 being the other two) in football, despite not having won anything since 1964 before that. So, in my view, a winning mentality is not beyond Lancaster and this English rugby team. However, I do feel that - like Murray - their winning mentality will only develop to become occasional, or semi-serial, winners, rather than serial winners like Ferguson, Mourinho, Schmidt, Brailsford and former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward.
|This was probably Stuart Lancaster's expression when someone|
told him he'd been compared (albeit loosely) to Hector Cuper.
(C) Getty Images
So what are England's prospects going forward? The prospects for the World Cup, which will be held on home soil this autumn, are in my view very promising. On top of home advantage, their tendency to be a team of great matches, rather than a great team, should favour the knock-out format (after the group stage) of the World Cup. They will have a good chance of winning the Webb Ellis Cup yet, without any major international success (and therefore lacking the winning mentality), I do wonder if they will have what it takes to make that last crucial step against the best teams; against the likes of South Africa, New Zealand and Ireland. The same is true going forwards; they have the capacity to win Six Nations titles and autumn tests but one cannot yet be truly convinced that they will do so. Lancaster deserves a lot of credit for his unstinting professionalism, and for the way he has rebuilt the national team from the ashes of a somewhat chaotic 2011 World Cup campaign. However, for him to make the next step up, him and the team will need to start winning some trophies and, with it, a certain winning mentality.