Head coach Stuart Lancaster insists the group of players which presided over England’s worst ever World Cup showing can rise from the ashes of failure and prove the foundation for future success.
Lancaster admitted that his squad remain in a “dark place” after the 33-13 defeat to Australia at Twickenham on Saturday confirmed their tournament exit – the first time a host nation has not reached the quarter-final.
The autopsy on England’s World Cup meltdown is well under way with defence coach Andy Farrell accused of having a disproportionate influence on selection and recriminations over the make-up of the 31-man squad.
Lancaster’s own future is shrouded in doubt despite him having a contract until 2020, although he remains adamant that the correct player choices were made, and stoically believes those individuals should not be consumed forever by their World Cup demise.
“I 100 per cent believe the group of players I stood in front of yesterday and today will be sat here at Pennyhill for the Six Nations,” said Lancaster. “Some of our most talented players are our youngest players.
“Clearly we are in a dark place. But equally as a leader in charge of the team you have to give everyone a sense of direction, purpose and perspective. That is an important word.
“While all the noise outside the team is huge at the moment, internally I’m absolutely determined the team stays together and stays positive and stays believing in what they’re doing.
“We’ve played some brilliant rugby over the past 12 or 18 months and even before then. We’ve not won every game, but we’ve won a lot and played some good rugby and people shouldn’t forget that.
“It’s important the players understand that and listen to what I’m saying about where they can go as a team in the future. I think they’ve got fantastic potential.”
Lancaster has opted to utilise his squad, which has the youngest average age at the tournament of 26.2 years, for England’s Pool A dead-rubber against Uruguay at the Manchester City Stadium on Saturday, and has made a total of eight changes.
There is no place for Test rookie Sam Burgess, who was drafted in to start England’s pivotal clash with Wales, in the matchday squad as Lancaster elected for a midfield of fly-half George Ford and centres Owen Farrell and Henry Slade.
But whether Saturday proves to be Lancaster’s final game in charge of the national team or not, the 45-year-old is adamant that his charges need to bow out of the tournament with a flourish.
“A big driver is that the impression you leave in any walk in life or competition is very important,” added Lancaster. “It’s very important that we put together a positive, attacking display and I think this team will reflect that.”
Lancaster also doused speculation that former Bradford Bulls and South Sydney Rabbitohs star Burgess is set to make a return to rugby league post-World Cup, less than a year after switching codes to union.
“My last conversation with him was about him going back to Bath. He can’t wait to get stuck into the Premiership,” said Lancaster. “He feels he’s made good strides as a player and wants to continue to improve. I can’t see anything changing in that regard.”