England must find another gear

THE Grand Slam might be there for the taking, but it would be premature in the extreme to compare this current England team to the class of 2003.

True, there is a certain amount of symmetry in that a first RBS 6 Nations clean sweep in eight years is likely to boil down to winning in Ireland in a World Cup year, but that, broadly, is where the similarities end. By the time the side I played in went to Dublin, we were in the home straight; this England unit are still at the beginning of their journey.

Forget the Grand Slam; winning in Wales was a first for everyone bar Mike Tindall and the same would apply to most should we finish the job at the Aviva Stadium next week.

That’s not to say England haven’t been making impressive strides. I remember a year ago cycling through Rome before the match against Italy. By the end of those 80 minutes I regretted getting off my bike, so insipid was England’s performance.

That drudgery has given way to an exciting brand of rugby led by Ben Youngs, Toby Flood and a dynamic pack, but as well as England have done so far, judging by what we saw against Australia in the autumn, there is still another gear to find.

The lack of alternatives to Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape at centre is a concern, but the chances to experiment in Test conditions are running out. Having Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft and Lewis Moody is a bonus, but Martin Johnson faces a difficult call as to how best to integrate them back into the side.

Scotland are something of a wounded animal at present, and experience tells me Sunday won’t be the stroll in the park many anticipate. I expect England to win well, but they’ll have to dominate up front and Youngs and Flood will have to make their mark early on.

Lawrence Dallaglio is rugby ambassador for Greene King IPA, the Official Beer of England Rugby. Enjoy a proper pint at your nearest Greene King IPA Official England Rugby Supporter Pub by visiting www.greenekingipa.co.uk