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THERE WAS an alarming amount of doom and gloom around last month when England ended their Six Nations campaign with a 24-8 loss in Ireland.

It seemed all the progress the side had made over the past 12 months, and the fact that they had won their first Six Nations title for eight years, was forgotten. But that isn’t the view of Lewis Moody, the England captain who missed the whole championship with a knee injury.

“No one involved with England is happy with how we played against Ireland, and the players are rightly frustrated, but I’m proud of what they achieved and they should be too,” says Moody. “We recognise how tough the Six Nations is to win. The side has come on so much. If 12 months ago you’d said we’d have won in Australia, beaten the Wallabies by a record margin and won the Six Nations title we’d have been very happy with that. Clearly we have a long way to go but we must recognise that England, under Martin Johnson, are moving in the right direction.”

“This was a tough Six Nations so we must be delighted to win the trophy. It’s the manner in which we lost to Ireland that is so frustrating. It’s easy to be down and negative but I’m certainly not and I hope England’s fans can also be proud of what we have achieved.”

Moody, who when fit will be confirmed as England’s long-term captain, can’t wait to link back up with Johnno and the players at the start of July, when their World Cup camp kicks off. “The biggest thing I’ll take from the 2011 Six Nations is the way players have been able to come in and look like they’ve been around for ages,” Moody says.

“I’ll remember it as the championship when Alex Corbisiero and Tom Wood made their debuts and played like seasoned internationals.”

“And let’s not forget we have others like Tom Croft, Andrew Sheridan and Riki Flutey to come back to full fitness. We need to be positive when we meet up to start the run-in to the World Cup and that will be the case as there’s such a good spirit in the squad, a great atmosphere.”

England’s title was one of three for the nation as they became the first country to win senior, U20 and women’s titles in the same season – the women and U20s with Grand Slams. “That is some achievement,” says Moody. “I’m delighted for all of them. We’ve already seen players emerge quickly from the U20s into the senior side and looking at the strength in depth in the Aviva Premiership it’s clear to me that this will continue.”

The women picked up their fifth Grand Slam in six years while the U20s thumped Ireland 41-15 in Athlone to secure their clean sweep. In 18-year-old George Ford England have a star in the making; similarly with Harlequins lock Charlie Matthews, who looks like a younger Courtney Lawes. Says Ford: “One of our season objectives was to win the Grand Slam, and that’s what we’ve done. It’s not being arrogant, it’s being confident and pushing ourselves to be the best we can.”

One thing’s for sure. With Martin Johnson at the helm, being pushed is something England players will have to endure for many years to come.

This article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.

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