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Rugby World Cup 2019: England's Six Nations slip is best overlooked

Owen Farrell is a shoo-in for Lions honours this year
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England messed up with the Grand Slam in sight but Ralph Ellis is focusing on the positives and looking ahead after a great Six Nations campaign...

"Of course Saturday was a huge disappointment. Especially if like me you'd backed England to complete the Grand Slam at decent odds-against. But if international rugby these days is all about a four-year cycle, then the last 18 months has been a hugely positive start to that journey."

Amazing how quickly minds can change. One defeat on a wet day in Dublin and England's rugby team have slipped from all-conquering to average.

Even Sir Clive Woodward, who on Saturday morning was confidently forecasting that Eddie Jones's men would complete the Grand Slam, is now questioning what we learned from the Six Nations tournament and suggesting the Red Rose could have just as easily finished fourth as first.

Of course Saturday was a huge disappointment. Especially if like me you'd backed England to complete the Grand Slam at decent odds-against. But if international rugby these days is all about a four-year cycle, then the last 18 months has been a hugely positive start to that journey.

England were matched at [11.0] when the market for the 2019 World Cup in Japan first opened, but have now been backed down to [4.6] second favourites behind holders New Zealand [2.5]. That alone underlines their progress.

When the draw gets made on May 10 in Kyoto England will be second seeds in the top band of countries which includes the All Blacks, Australia [7.4] and now Ireland [15.5] following their stubborn display on Saturday night.

Lurking as the big danger for all of those top nations will be South Africa [17.5] who have found themselves relegated to Band 2. But the most relieved side of all will be Wales whose last minute defeat in France didn't quite cost them a place among the top eight nations and thus made sure there was no repeat of their 2015 Group of Death scenario.

England have plenty of time to improve. They already have a largely young side and the defeat in Dublin has actually opened the door for Jones to evolve the side a little more.

Full back Mike Brown, who will be 34 when Japan rolls round, was superb with his catching under pressure But he twice had the chance to break forward into the line and set up what might have been a match winning try and each time he dropped the ball. That will surely prompt the ruthless Jones into experimenting with a different option.

Dylan Hartley has done a great job as the first captain of this era, translating the winning mentality from coach to dressing room. But for how much longer can you carry a skipper if he gets taken off after 46 minutes of the biggest game of the season? That must evolve.

It's still a sign of England's strength that there are likely to be as many as 15 of their players in the Lions squad when it is named on April 19. Ireland's Conor Murray is the favourite to be the Lions Captain with Alun Wyn Jones also highly fancied, but Owen Farrell's ice-cool game brain makes him also a contender.

Defeat in Dublin was a failure to play under pressure rather than anything else. The line-out was awful, the handling sloppy, and for the first time in the tournament England conceded far too many penalties. There's time to iron plenty of that out.

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