The Harlequins director of rugby has been impressed with what he has seen of the national team in their RBS 6 Nations wins over Wales and Italy in the opening two rounds with Lancaster blending youthful exuberance with experienced heads.
This England team have a lot of inexperienced players, but over the past two years they have also developed a depth of experience in key positions that make them very dangerous.
Part of the exciting mix has been enforced upon the Red Rose by a lengthy injury list, which has seen key players including Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Ben Morgan and David Wilson ruled out of the Six Nations, but with the Aviva Premiership considered one of the best leagues in world rugby, Lancaster has no shortage of options.
The success of Bath Rugby’s younng and exciting backline has been pivotal to England’s success in 2015, with George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson establishing themselves as key players in the national team’s backline.
And O’Shea, who coaches a number of England’s more experienced stars at club level, believes there will be even more competition for places as Lancaster considers his options for their home Rugby World Cup, which begins in September.
“There really is a depth to the talent and leadership group now within the England team and the opening wins against Wales and Italy will allow Stuart Lancaster to develop even greater competition for places,” O’Shea said.
“He will have some tough calls to make come World Cup time and the rest of the Six Nations and this year’s QBE Internationals will be the last chance for players to put down their marker for selection.
“They always say if you could put the head of an old player on the body of a young player it would be the perfect fit.
“This England team have a lot of inexperienced players, but over the past two years they have also developed a depth of experience in key positions that make them very dangerous.”
While much of the talk during this year’s Six Nations has been about England’s injury problems the Bath backs’ elan, the Red Rose’s experienced Harlequins quartet of Chris Robshaw (pictured above), Mike Brown, Joe Marler and Nick Easter have been equally effective in a more business-like manner.
That was no more evident than in the Millennium Stadium tunnel ahead of the Six Nations opener as captain Robshaw, aided by chief enforcer Brown, led an English revolt against being made to wait on the field while Wales went through their traditional pre-match theatrics to whip up their passionate supporters.
While the stand-off was eventually mitigated by referee Jérôme Garcès, it was a further sign that Robshaw is the right man to lead the Red Rose in the most important year for English rugby.
What a moment like that one in the tunnel does show is a player and leader completely comfortable with where and who they are.
England have been in contention to win the championship on the final day in 2013 and 2014 only to lose out to Wales and Ireland respectively, leaving Lancaster still in search of a maiden title.
With England also set to host France and Ireland in the QBE Internationals at Twickenham in August – as well as facing a trip to Paris – as part of their Rugby World Cup preparations, the pressure is expected to intensify further as they face a difficult pool that includes rivals Wales, as well as Australia and Fiji.
But O’Shea insists that Robshaw’s defiance in the most hostile of environments in Cardiff shows the magnitude of the 28-year-old’s confidence in his ability to lead the national team in difficult situations and ultimately spur them on to victory as England produced a stunning second-half performance to defeat Wales 21-16.
“There have been many lessons along the way both for club and country and this season,” O’Shea added.
“Given the sheer enormity of the year ahead for him personally, we took the decision to let him focus on being Chris Robshaw, the player for Harlequins.
“For four years he had captained the club, for three seasons he had captained both club and country.
“At Harlequins, his role is to now help Joe Marler develop as a leader, just as Nick Easter, Nick Evans, Danny Care, George Robson, the coaches and others have helped him.
“The leadership in the tunnel at the Millennium Stadium may go down as one of the most defining moments of Chris Robshaw’s captaincy reign.
“Games are not won and lost then, they are won and lost by decisions that are taken every minute of the game.
“However, what a moment like that one in the tunnel does show is a player and leader completely comfortable with where and who they are.”
England return to Six Nations action on Sunday as they travel to Dublin to take on Ireland in a potential championship decider.
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