DEFIANT England head coach Stuart Lancaster believes his side can still win the first Six Nations title of his tenure despite seeing their grand slam ambitions trampled by Ireland in Dublin yesterday.
Fly-half Jonny Sexton’s four penalties and a solitary try from centre Robbie Henshaw took the game away from England in a clash between the championship’s two unbeaten teams.
Ireland’s record-equalling 10th consecutive Test win ushered them towards a successful defence of their crown, though Lancaster is hopeful that their more challenging schedule – trips to the Millennium Stadium and Murrayfield, compared with England’s home fixtures against Scotland and France – could allow his side back into the race.
“There are very few grand slam teams. The majority of years you end up with a team winning the championship who’ve lost one game along the way,” Lancaster said.
“We’ve got two games at home. It’s critical we get as much as we can out of those. Ireland have got two games away and Wales are obviously still in the hunt having won at the weekend. That’ll be a big game now.”
Lancaster said Ireland had deserved the win, blamed defeat on his side’s poor first-half discipline and defended the decision not to bring on wild card Danny Cipriani when chasing the game,
“Ireland played a very effective kicking and territory-based game. If you’re ill-disciplined they can build the score,” he added.
“I was thinking about bringing Danny on but there comes a point when you are making substitutions through the team and you feel you don’t want to make too many. It’s not a reflection on our trust in Danny at all. He’s a quality player.”
Three Sexton kicks to one drop-goal from England No10 George Ford gave the hosts a 9-3 lead at the Aviva Stadium and Henshaw’s try 13 minutes into the second period, when he beat full-back Alex Goode to Conor Murray’s kick to the corner, proved decisive.
The margin of victory also gave Ireland a 15-point cushion on England, should Joe Schmidt’s men lose to Wales or Scotland and the title be decided by points difference.