Six Nations: Johnson praises young side despite defeat
Martin Johnson looked beyond the immediate disappointment of a lost Grand Slam opportunity and praised his young England team for a successful season.
England's hopes of an RBS 6 Nations clean sweep were wrecked by Ireland, who stormed to a 24-8 victory at the Aviva Stadium.
But England were still crowned champions for the first time since 2003 and over the last eight months they have beaten Australia twice, including a record victory at Twickenham.
This season, Johnson has uncovered new Test-quality players in Alex Corbisiero and Tom Wood while winning six of their nine internationals.
England will regroup in the summer for a training camp and three warm-up internationals before their next full-blown Test, against Argentina in the World Cup on September 10.
“I think we are in a pretty good place,” Johnson said.
“The season has been good. If you had said at the start that we'd have been here in Ireland with a chance to win the Grand Slam and the championship we'd have been happy.
“A lot of our guys are playing a full season of international rugby for the first time and winning the championship is a heck of an achievement. We should be a team that can compete with anyone in the world — that's what the goal is and we are getting closer to it.”
The responsibility for lifting the Six Nations trophy fell to Nick Easter, who captained England against Ireland in the injury absence of Mike Tindall.
While Johnson praised England's achievement, it will take the players a little longer to recognise their winners' medals as anything other than scant consolation for missing out on the Grand Slam.
“Lifting the trophy was an empty feeling,” Easter said.
“I suppose it is complement to the strides we have taken this year. There is a little of something for the effort we put in but it is of minor significance.
“We were well beaten. That will hurt but with a young side, a relatively inexperienced side, we will carry that forward and become stronger on the back of it.”