England will sign off an encouraging Rugby World Cup with Friday’s bronze final against Argentina at the Stade de France.
Having lost 16-15 to South Africa in the last four, Steve Borthwick’s side are 1/3 in the England Rugby World Cup odds to beat the Pumas and claim third place.
Here, we examine five things we learned from their progress through the tournament.
England in the right hands
The rancour of the latter stages of the Eddie Jones era saw the bond between England and their fans fray but the act of defiance produced on a sodden Paris night has the capacity to reconnect team and supporters.
Although it ended in heartbreak, there was much to admire as the Springboks were out-Bokked by a wet-weather masterclass devised by Steve Borthwick.
Expectations heading into the World Cup were at an all-time low, yet Borthwick drove them to the brink of a World Cup final and the head coach described as a rugby “genius” by wing Jonny May has proved he is the right man to lead England forward.
End of an era
Supporters might have to show patience as tricky waters lie ahead in the form of the inevitable rebuild for Australia 2027.
Stalwarts such as Courtney Lawes, Jonny May, Dan Cole and Joe Marler are likely to have played their last Tests.
While there is an impressive core of players who are in the early phase of their career – Ben Earl, Freddie Steward, Marcus Smith and Alex Mitchell among them – it could be some time before Borthwick’s vision for England really takes shape.
Break the World Cup cycle
Under Jones everything was sacrificed at the alter of the World Cup, repeated poor Six Nations performances explained away by their place in the bigger picture.
But the gut-wrenching defeat to South Africa, which was won by a 79th-minute Handre Pollard penalty, was an indicator of just how hard the tournament is to win.
The Webb Ellis Trophy remains the ultimate prize, but it is just part of the sport’s landscape and should not be prioritised at the expense of other competitions.
Red Rose great
It did not need a strong World Cup to confirm Lawes as an all-time England great but over the last two months he provided emphatic confirmation nonetheless.
The second row-turned blindside flanker retires from Test rugby after the tournament, a 34-year-old veteran of 105 caps, who saved his best performances for the biggest games.
As a back-row warrior with sharp rugby instincts, he leaves giant boots to fill.
Martin the enforcer
While the English game says farewell to one ultra-physical back-five forward, Saturday hinted at the birth of another.
George Martin was making only his fourth start, yet the 22-year-old rookie was the dominant second row on a pitch also roamed by Eben Etzebeth and Maro Itoje, making thunderous tackles and offering close-quarter muscle, particularly in mauls.
The type of brutish presence every pack needs, he should become a fixture in England’s 23 for years to come.
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