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England would still struggle against the world's best

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England were crowned Six Nations winners for the first time since 2011 last weekend after France fell to Scotland at Murrayfield. Clearly this represents a successful tournament and many would say, an overall improvement since the start of the Eddie Jones era at the helm of English rugby.

However, it is also evident that the competition has been underwhelming for the most part. Ireland and Wales have both been missing key players and have not really settled into the tournament, whilst France are in a phase of drastic transition with a hugely unsettled squad under their own new head coach Guy Noves.

This is not to say that England are undeserving champions, they have been the most well-rounded and effective side in the competition but, the overall standard of play has not been enthralling nor has it suggested the gap to the level of the powerhouses of the southern hemisphere has got any closer.

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Jones has instilled a new belief and, to a certain extent, a new style of rugby in this England side. Although he hasn't made the wholesale changes to the squad that were expected, he has brought in some new faces who have excelled.

Comparing this team to the side that failed so miserably in the World Cup last year, it is very easy to see that they are more apt at controlling a game. The selection of Owen Farrell at inside-centre alongside George Ford at fly-half has meant more kicking at times but it has been beneficial as both men bring a different tactical nous to the backline.

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There is the threat of Ford with ball in hand combined with the more balanced distribution and territorial kicking option that Farrell offers - forcing defensive lines to prepare for multiple scenarios at any time.

The back three have been dynamic at times, linking well together and often popping up in midfield off the shoulder of the excellent Jonathan Joseph who has continued to score tries at a good rate.

Whilst in the forwards, the addition of Maro Itoje has been brilliant. The young Saracens man has made an immediate impact, offering dynamic ball carrying and a high work rate around the park defensively, to name just two of his many positives. There is still the absence of a world class fetcher in the pack but elsewhere the front five have been solid if not spectacular, and Jamie George has been very energetic off the bench at hooker in particular.

England v Wales - RBS Six Nations

This all sounds fantastic and English rugby fans do have good reason to be optimistic but that is all it should be for now; optimism.

This side is far from the finished article; there is still a lack of creativity at times in the backline especially as Owen Farrell is, to put it politely, not the most attack-minded 12 in the game and although there is talent from 9 to 15, there isn't any one player who is undoubtedly world class - not yet anyway.

Sure, Mike Brown has his days, as does Joseph but if you examine their peers across world rugby are they really as good as Ben Smith, Israel Folau, Wille Le Roux and co? The answer is no in case you're thinking about making a case for it.

In the forwards, the gulf between the back row play of England and the top teams in the world is just enormous, the lack of a top quality fetcher is blindingly obvious and hinders the side a lot at the breakdown. Even the home nation oppositions of Ireland and Wales boast much stronger back rowers in Sean O'Brien, Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and more.

England v Wales - RBS Six Nations

England's second row forwards have been lauded as some of the best in the business but again just consider the premier players in the world in this position and you soon realise that really is not the case. Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and George Kruis are good but any man taking those guys over Brodie Retallick, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager or even Alun Wyn Jones, is certainly not a coach.

The front row can certainly scrummage, whether it is always legal is another issue but they have been a solid unit capable of holding their own against most in the world. Again though, none of England's trio of Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole and Joe Marler would be considered a premier operator in their position amongst the world's elite players of Bismarck Du Plessis, Dan Coles, Scott Sio, Ramiro Herrera and more.

Despite England's improvement since November, it would not be correct to label them as a top side in world rugby at this moment in time.

It is a common sin of English rugby fans to get too excited too quickly without considering the quality of the teams from south of the equator that they do not play all that often, and most people do not watch these sides until they turn up to Twickenham in November and then are suddenly surprised when England lose.

England v Wales - RBS Six Nations

The quality of rugby played in this year's Six Nations has been poor to be quite frank. Errors and drab games have dominated the competition and there has been a severe lack of high-quality play. There is an obvious gulf between the northern hemisphere sides and those in the south, as was proven by the last four teams left in the 2015 World Cup.

New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and now Argentina to some extent, simply have better rugby players and their teams continually dominate their northern counterparts as a result. This triumph for English rugby should, therefore, be one that is judged as a building block.

They shouldn't be built up as a world powerhouse because they aren't and in all likelihood will lose comfortably to Australia this summer on their three-match tour. It is not impossible for England to ascend to the top of the world again but it is a long way off right now and whilst any tournament win should be celebrated, it should not be taken out of its context; an efficient job done against underwhelming opposition.

Judge this team at the end of the calendar year once they have faced the hardest challenges that world rugby can throw at you, the Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks. Only then will we know how England really sit in the pecking order.

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Topics:
IRB Rugby World Cup
England Rugby
Owen Farrell
Rugby Union
Jonny Wilkinson
Six Nations

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