The Phil Vickery Column
Lack of scrum reliance sets England free
Phil Vickery
March 17, 2014
Mike Brown is my player of the tournament © Getty Images

I was at Cheltenham races this week and walking about, you just felt the Gods were smiling on the Irish. They took the Gold Cup and with St Patrick's Day today it was written that Ireland would win the Six Nations and they deserved the title. After the disappointment of the Lions in the summer, it was wonderful for Brian O'Driscoll to finish his international career like that. I've played against him a fair few times and he's been an inspiration.

For Ireland, to have won the title in Paris was a great achievement. Their away record there was similar to Gloucester's when I first arrived at the club but they were better than France. People will talk of ifs and buts but the facts are there, they did it and that's the bottom line. The rest of it is irrelevant.

Six Nations review

  • Best bits: The England v Ireland game was a great day as was the match against Wales. It was also great to see Wales battering people again like they did against Scotland. And it was good to see Scotland get that last-gasp drop-goal in Italy. We generally don't know who's going to win and that's hugely exciting.
  • Worst bits: Scotland's performance against England was just so poor but on the whole there weren't too many disappointments.
  • Player of the championship: England's captain warrants a mention as he was an unsung hero, he was relentless. Wales, France and Ireland all had good performers but no standout players but for me there is one clear winner, England's Mike Brown. He was the outstanding player in the competition.

Comparisons will now be made between this Ireland team and the one in 2009. That side had been together for an awfully long time and was reminiscent of an old England team, the names just rolled off the tongue. But I feel this one can be more dangerous. This one is still developing and they are in safe hands. Joe Schmidt comes from a good stock of how he sees the game. He met the expectations of the Irish public and they are lucky to have him.

It was kitchen sink stuff at Stade de France, the impacts were brutal and this is an area of the game that concerns me. After seeing the matches on Saturday, I guess magnified by the Stuart Hogg incident, the impacts around the field are genuinely concerning regarding the long-term effects they will be having on the players. The Cian Healy incident where he went in head-first was also naughty.

Overall this Six Nations showed the gap between the teams is narrowing. The days of when one team dominated the championship are a thing of the past, I think it will be even closer next year.

For the six countries, they will now turn attention to their summer tours. While Ireland will go to Argentina riding the crest of the wave after their win, England can go to New Zealand feeling good about themselves.

They must make sure they keep their feet on the ground but they can push on. I think the players who have come in have done well - guys like Luther Burrell and Jonny May. What they have done with the players is exciting to see and the forwards are also doing well.

On Philippe Saint-Andre

  • "I think he should keep his job. He's come in to a difficult environment with tough issues - the club v country battle is a joke. He's got a hell of a job on his hands and I think Philippe can develop this side and get them onside playing the rugby they are capable of."

They do have a lot to learn though. I think this summer tour to New Zealand will be brilliant. If they do struggle, and that's a big 'if', they can at least know they have played the best in the world. But there will be no better gage of where England are than in New Zealand.

I saw my old Wasps and Lions coach Geech said they could grab a win in New Zealand and I completely agree with him. The only thing that can stop England is themselves. They have the right attributes and the players.

And the exciting thing for me is that previously I thought their dominance in the scrum was strangling this team but they are now developing an all-round game. I think it has freed up this England team to grow away from the set piece. At the weekend the only thing I'd have liked to see George Ford come on earlier to see what he can do and another reason for optimism is the strength in depth they have to come back - players like Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Alex Corbisiero, Billy Vunipola and Tom Croft.

Stuart will now keep the players close and I don't think he'll make too many more changes other than trying to reintegrate a few of those injured players. That's a sign that this squad is pretty much there as there's a lot to be positive about without getting above ourselves. There's still an awful lot of rugby to be played before the World Cup, 18 months worth, but I think England are in as good a place as any of the other teams.

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