Stuart Lancaster believes England’s performances in the Test series against New Zealand show they are closing the gap between themselves and the reigning world champions.
Lancaster’s side were narrowly beaten 28-27 in the second match of their three-Test tour on Saturday, a result which sealed the series for the home side following their last-gasp 20-15 victory in the first Test.
Despite the series defeat, Lancaster is taking a lot of positives from the way his side played, which he feels indicates the progress that is being made.
“We have lost, just, in two matches; the first game by the smallest of margins, when one or two things didn’t go our way, and the second by a point,” Lancaster told Sky Sports. “We are closing the gap.
“I think the ideal scenario is to have the all-court game. To have the intelligent kicking game, the great defence and the attack where you can strike of set-pieces and turn over ball.
“I think we are good in all those areas but what we need to be is excellent to beat the All Blacks."
The third Test of the New Zealand series is next Saturday, after which focus will turn towards the home Autumn internationals against the All Blacks, South Africa, Samoa and Australia and then the Six Nations and World Cup in 2015.
Lancaster expects to be much clearer on his strongest starting XV by next February but insists he is also working towards building a squad that can handle the rigours of a World Cup campaign.
“But we are still behind the All Blacks in terms of our evolution as a group,” he said.
“Once we get to that Six Nations period then we need to know what our strongest side is.
“But even then, when you go to a World Cup, you have seven games in seven weeks and there will be changes and people who will play in different positions. You only have a squad of 31 to pick from.”
On Saturday, Lancaster picked centre Manu Tuilagi on the wing on Saturday to good effect and the head coach admits it is a ploy he may use again in the future.
When asked if Tuilagi would play on the wing in the third Test, Lancaster said: “Possibly, we will see at the weekend.
“I don’t think he was the reason we lost by any stretch of the imagination. The third quarter was more of an issue for other areas of our game.
“He was our top carrier and I thought his back-field stuff was good. It is something we need to find out about, to find out what our best combinations are.”