Stuart Lancaster didn’t want to take the bait. He didn’t want to say that whoever wins the game between Ireland and England in a fortnight’s time will win the Six Nations and, in all likelihood, a Grand Slam.
There were, the England head coach said, kicking games to sort, emotional resources to find and injuries to assess.
At almost the exact same time he was saying this, Johnny Sexton’s forehead was to become very closely acquainted with Mathieu Basteraud’s right cheek.
Around 30 metres away from Lancaster his full-back, Mike Brown, was sitting in a corner of the Twickenham changing room, complaining to anyone within earshot.
Brown’s complaint was not that he had been knocked unconscious in a sickening collision early in England’s simple win but rather that he had to miss the rest of the match.
He, like Sexton, should be thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t counting them in cloud cuckoo land. Certainly, few players are more crucial for England than Brown, and few players are more vital to Joe Schmidt than Sexton. England expect a game dominated by tactical kicking, one where the tactical awareness of their back three will be imperative.
Brown is vital to everything they do. He will rest this week, and is expected to join in training a week today. If he doesn’t make it then Alex Goode will almost certainly fill in at full-back rather than Anthony Watson, despite the wing covering well against the Azzurri. The rest of the team picks itself. A settled, confident pack, a half-back pairing who are learning each other’s game and a centre combination that looks to be the real deal — certainly in the case of Jonathan Joseph, who scored two more electrifying tries on Saturday to cement the impression he made against the Welsh first time out.
But back to Lancaster. His job now is to prepare his team mentally for the Aviva Stadium. Physically, after a two-week break, they will be ready. Yet cautious by nature, he won’t fan the flames too much just yet.
“I wouldn’t go as far as that (to say the game in Dublin is championship-defining), as you have two big games after that,” he said.
“But there’s no doubt the game in Dublin has huge significance in relation to the championship.
“In order to win the championship, you have to win home and away. It will be the next test for us. It will be nice to get a quieter week training and build up to that preparation as it will be a big game when it comes around.
“Certainly the confidence we have gained over the years, winning away in the Six Nations, has been huge for us.
“My first year we beat France away, and probably should have beaten France last year, being honest.
“We’ve won in Dublin before, and have now won in the Millennium Stadium. It gives us confidence but we know how good a side they are.”
The challenge for England is to find the emotional intensity they tapped into in Cardiff in round one. There was, admitted captain Chris Robshaw, an “emotional hangover” from that potentially season-defining win in Cardiff as Italy stunned England with a fast start and a smart try from the magnificent Sergio Parisse.
Yet they roared back, none more impressively than Joseph. He is an assured individual, drawing comparisons with Jeremy Guscott.
Expect Robshaw to have a word with Conor O’Shea, his boss at Harlequins, about what to expect when they arrive in Dublin next month.
“Ireland are an extremely good side,” said Robshaw. “They have an extremely smart coach in Joe Schmidt, who with Conor knowing him a bit as well, is an extremely smart guy, from what I see.
“He generally finds weaknesses somewhere. It’s about making sure we are clued up, that everyone does their job. The details need to be spot on as we need to try and find their weaknesses as well.”
And if they do, maybe then Lancaster will admit the Grand Slam is on.
Scorers for England: Tries: B. Vunipola, Joseph 2, B. Youngs, Cipriani, Easter. Cons: Ford 3, Cipriani. Pens: Ford 3.
Scorers for Italy: Tries: Parisse, Morisi 2. Cons: Allan.
ENGLAND: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Burrell, May, Ford, B. Youngs, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Attwood, Kruis, Haskell, Robshaw, B. Vunipola. Replacements: Twelvetrees for Brown (13), Cipriani for Ford (63), Wigglesworth for B. Youngs (67), M. Vunipola for Marler (72), T. Youngs for Hartley (59), Brookes for Cole (59), Easter for Attwood (51), Croft for Haskell (63).
ITALY: McLean, Sarto, Morisi, Masi, Venditti, Haimona, Gori, De Marchi, Ghiraldini, Castrogiovanni, Biagi, Bortolami, Bergamasco, Minto, Parisse.
Replacements: Bisegni for Sarto (72), Allan for Haimona (70), Palazzani for Gori (71), Aguero for De Marchi (59), Manici for Ghiraldini (59), Chistolini for Castrogiovanni (60), Furno for Bortolami (46), Vunisa for Minto (29).
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland).