Neil Back-ing England to progress
Neil Back believes England will ultimately benefit from missing out on the 2014 RBS 6 Nations title, but warns only the Grand Slam is acceptable next year.
Points difference alone sabotaged Red Rose hopes of claiming the first Championship crown of Stuart Lancaster's reign with Ireland's success resulting in a third consecutive runners-up finish.
World Cup winner Back, England's openside between 1994-2003, is encouraged by the progress made during the Six Nations and views the failure to win the title as a blessing.
But with the 2015 World Cup on home soil looming, the 45-year-old insists England must crush their European rivals next year if they are to be considered genuine contenders for sport's greatest prize.
"Perversely, not winning the Six Nations may have been a good thing because it means the hunger is still there," Back said.
"Sometimes when a young teams wins things they can start to gravitate, but this team is still very well grounded.
"Not winning the Six Nations will have made them even hungrier for next year, and that's the important one because it's a World Cup year.
"It's crucial that England win next season's Six Nations and the Grand Slam too to take them into the World Cup.
"If you want to win the World Cup you must win seven matches and if you can't defeat Six Nations teams ranked below, then we'll have a problem winning the World Cup.
"This is a really exciting time and I'm genuinely excited about this England team for the first time since I was last involved."
Back, who won 66 caps and made five Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions, has been impressed by the development of Chris Robshaw.
Robshaw entered the season with his status as first-choice openside and England captain under threat, but responded with a string of outstanding performances that have placed his position beyond challenge.
"Rightly Chris was left out of the Lions tour to Australia last summer because he wasn't the best in his position," Back said.
"But he's gone away, decided that he needs to improve and has worked on those areas.
"There's been a significant change in his foot speed away from contact and his lines of running.
"Due to his inexperience the captaincy was a burden, but he's getting there and is a million miles from where he was two years ago."
England's next assignment is a three-Test series in New Zealand and Back views a 2-1 series defeat as a worthy outcome.
"The series begins after the first Test because England will be missing their Premiership finalists, so that game is more of a warm-up," he said.
"Then the Test series really begins in my eyes and if they can draw that, then they'll come home with their heads held high.
"If they manage that, it would be a big statement. Any less than that and we are where we should be, ranked fourth in the world."
* Neil Back was speaking on behalf QBE, the business insurance specialist, supporting community rugby through the QBE Coaching Club. Visit www.QBErugby.com