Six Nations: Stuart Lancaster says title race is wide open
Stuart Lancaster believes the Six Nations title race is wide open this year and may be decided by points difference.
Last Updated: 09/02/14 10:04pm
England lost narrowly to France in Paris and thumped Scotland 20-0 at Murrayfield, and they face Ireland - who have two wins out of two - next at Twickenham, with Wales to follow.
If England beat the Irish, they are back in title contention and after two away matches Lancaster is looking forward to playing Joe Schmidt's men in front of a full house at Twickenham - and he thinks it could be a classic.
"Playing the next two games at home is massive for us. We've trained at Twickenham more now recently which has helped," Lancaster said.
"The way the crowd has got behind us in the last few games has been huge, certainly in the autumn internationals.
"We owe them a decent performance because they're definitely backing us. Ireland are a very good attacking side. Joe Schmidt has brought Leinster's cohesion to the national team. Defensively they are going to challenge us.
"They caused Wales a lot of problems with their mauling in that second half, so we will have to be on our mettle up front.
"But we have got threats of our own as well. They should be looking at us and thinking 'This is going to be a good old game'.
"I actually thought we made a statement against France last weekend and we were disappointed not to have won.
"I'm pleased that we've had a good win and that can take us into two massive home games.
"Playing at Twickenham is a big deal for us, so it's good to win now, to take us into the next game with confidence.
"I think points difference might come into the Championship equation now. If Ireland beat us obviously it's theirs to win."
Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees are gelling well in the England midfield, and Lancaster says they deserve to keep their places even if Manu Tuilagi returns to fitness.
Tuilagi has been out with a chest injury and Lancaster thinks the Leicester powerhouse is unlikely to feature in the tournament.
"I suspect that Manu might run out of time for this Six Nations," Lancaster said.
"I'm not saying he will, but the reality is if he doesn't return until the start of March, he's going to run out of time. We'll wait and see.
"There's the second half of the season to go and the New Zealand tour when we could look at it, but without a doubt Billy and Luther have played well and deserve to keep their places.
"Jonny has definitely got that X factor. He's shown it in training too. The more you work with him the more you appreciate how dangerous a runner he is.
"But you also see how bright he is as a rugby player. You only have to say something once and he picks it up very quickly.
"But also I thought Jack Nowell was exceptional against Scotland. It was virtually an error-free game.
"He made 14 tackles and missed none last week. As a 20-year-old lad that's pretty impressive. He's a tough little man."