Rugby-England shaping up well for World Cup challenge

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By Mitch Phillips LONDON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - England coach Stuart Lancaster can enjoy Christmas knowing his side are growing in confidence and depth ahead of next year's World Cup and, though there are issues to address, they should be a formidable force on home soil. Defeats by New Zealand and South Africa at the start of November made it five losses in a row, and last week's win over Samoa did little to placate the doomsayers. But in arguably the most important match of the series against Australia, who they have to beat in the World Cup pool stage, England secured a win earned with confidence and tactical acumen that will send them into the Six Nations on a real high. "We've learned a lot over the last month," Lancaster said after Saturday's 26-17 victory. "There have been some real positives and this team have earned the right to play in the Six Nations." Lancaster came into November not knowing who his first-choice wingers were but reasonably certain that Owen Farrell was going to be his flyhalf all the way to the World Cup. After four games and a deal of shuffling, Anthony Watson and Jonny May have made the wide berths their own but Farrell seems to have been usurped by 21-year-old George Ford. MORE FIZZ Ford looked good in his first start against Samoa and stepped up a level against Australia. His tactical kicking was superb with the only concern being over his long-range goalkicking after he missed two penalties on Saturday. He certainly brings more fizz to the position than the ever-reliable Farrell, who suddenly looks like ideal replacement material for his ability to cover flyhalf and centre as well as to close out games with his ice-cool temperament. Ben Youngs has gone back in front in the long-running scrumhalf race but the centre positions are still up for grabs, with the absent Manu Tuilagi likely to return for the Six Nations after a long injury absence. He is one of seven British and Irish Lions who missed the November series, which is an indication of the strength in depth Lancaster is developing. Six of them are forwards but they were certainly not missed on Saturday as the pack made mincemeat of the Australia scrum. Forwards coach Graham Rowntree almost exploded on the touchline when England destroyed the Wallaby scrum to give Ben Morgan his second try. "Those guys coming back throws more names into the equation," he said. "But it's a good selection headache to have." (Editing by Ken Ferris)

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