Woodward: England can be No.1
Woodward: England can be No.1SHARE
England's thrilling 13-10 win over Ireland has created a four-way tie at the top of the Six Nations table and left them contemplating revenge when two-time defending champions Wales travel to Twickenham.
But perhaps even more importantly, in their own eyes and those of some of their critics, it has established Stuart Lancaster's side as serious contenders for next year's World Cup in England.
Clive Woodward, England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach, has often been critical of Lancaster's approach.
But the former England centre was unstinting in his praise after a youthful side, with the likes of fullback Mike Brown and lock Joe Launchbury prominent, came from 10-3 down to defeat a seasoned Irish team.
"History will show this as the day a promising group proved they have the armoury, ability and personnel – on and off the field – to go on and achieve something special," Woodward wrote in his Daily Mail column.
"Regardless of what happens from here in this tournament, England are building a team capable of becoming No.1 in the world."
Time will tell if Woodward's right about whether Lancaster's men, who unlike most European sides do at least know what it's like to beat world champions New Zealand, reach the summit of the global game.
But having got themselves back into Six Nations title contention – they are one of four teams on four points with two matches to play – they now face another member of that quartet when Wales come to Twickenham on March 9.
Last season, England were thrashed 30-3 by Wales in a title decider in Cardiff and Brown said: "Everyone in our squad hates losing, but that's the past now and as long as we react in a positive way, we can do what Wales did last year and go on and win the tournament."
Wales got their campaign back on track with a 27-6 win over France in Cardiff – just what they needed after a 26-3 thrashing by Ireland in Dublin.
"There is a responsibility that comes with wearing this jersey and we are such a small playing nation that we cannot afford to take anything for granted," said Wales coach Warren Gatland.
For France, who opened the Six Nations with a thrilling win over England and then saw off Italy, the loss in Cardiff was tough to take, especially as star centre Wesley Fofana was ruled out of the rest of the tournament afterwards through injury.
"I want the players to come back from this and in the next game play with fire in their bellies and turn things around," said France coach Philippe Saint-Andre.
And fit-again Clermont scrumhalf Morgan Parra could miss their next match, away to Scotland, after being sent off for head-butting Montpellier's Rene Ranger.
Scotland, following a humiliating 20-0 loss to England, recorded their first win of this Six Nations when, thanks to Duncan Weir's last-ditch drop-goal, they saw off Italy 21-20 in Rome.
"We have set the standard with that win in Rome," said centre Alex Dunbar, who scored two tries against the Azzurri.
"There were things against Italy that didn't work well. But we have a week off now and hopefully we can put them right before the France game."
The loss was tough on Italy, who've impressed in open play this season yet have nothing to show for it.
"Our whole mission has been pushed back a step and we need to look at why and then try to see how we react," said Italy coach Jacques Brunel.
Ireland, for all that they failed to give centre Brian O'Driscoll a win in his final Test at Twickenham before retirement, are still in pole position to see him bow out with the Six Nations title given their vastly superior points difference and an upcoming home Test against Italy.
"They will be devastated by the loss against Scotland, and that makes them that much more formidable," warned Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. "It's one step at a time and unfortunately we tripped up [against England]."