England coach Steve Borthwick said he was “excited” about what his players could do at this year’s World Cup despite a mediocre Six Nations.
The Red Rose brigade ended the Championship with two wins and three defeats for the third straight season after a 29-16 loss to Grand Slam champions Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
England, however, restored their self-respect at Lansdowne Road after a woeful 53-10 defeat by World Cup hosts France, an all-time record home loss, in the fourth round at Twickenham.
They pushed Ireland hard, despite having full-back Freddie Steward sent off on the stroke of half-time, before the world’s number one-ranked team pulled clear.
England were the losing finalists at the 2019 World Cup in Japan but recent results suggest they will do well to match that achievement when this year’s global showpiece starts in September.
But thanks to an absurdly lopsided draw that sees France and New Zealand in Pool A, with Ireland, world champions South Africa and Scotland all in Pool B, England could yet make it to the semi-finals without playing a team ranked higher than seventh in the world rankings.
And former Leicester coach Borthwick, who only replaced Eddie Jones as England boss in December, is looking forward to more time with his squad.
“We’ll debrief this Six Nations thoroughly, we’ll take what lessons we take from it and be clear on our direction going forward,” said Borthwick after England finished fourth in the Six Nations.
And in yet another dig at the old Twickenham regime, the former England captain added: “I’ve already said that there is a gap (to the top nations).
“The team is not where it could be and, while we’re judging against teams that have used this four-year cycle tremendously well, that’s not what has happened with England, that’s not the position England are in. I can’t do anything about the past.
“I intend we will be working really hard to put England in the best position possible and I’m excited about what these players can do for the World Cup.”
The first two of three penalties kicked by England captain Owen Farrell, the son of Ireland coach Andy, gave the visitors the lead for most of Saturday’s first half.
But Ireland moved ahead through the first of two tries by hooker Dan Sheehan before Steward saw red for colliding with the head of rival full-back Hugo Keenan.
England, to their credit, stayed in the game before tries from Robbie Henshaw, Sheehan and Rob Herring saw Ireland to a decisive victory, with Jamie George grabbing a consolation score for the visitors.
“We get a number of weeks to prepare (for the World Cup), players will then be conditioned for international rugby, players will understand how we want to play,” said Borthwick.
“This has been a fabulous tournament, five intense games and effectively you then have one main training session a week.
“I think we’ve seen some growth here but I think we will see more in that preparation period.”