England ended on a poor note but are still Six Nations champions
England boss Martin Johnson says the Six Nations champions have a lot to be positive about ahead of the World Cup despite their thwarted Grand Slam bid.
England were outplayed by Ireland in Dublin, prompting questions about how much progress they have really made.
But World Cup winner Johnson said: "I think we are in a pretty good place.
"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."
Ireland's 24-8 victory wrecked England's Grand Slam hopes and underlined the fact that Johnson's young team are by no means the finished article.
"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," the manager insisted.
"The players are Six Nations champions and they are disappointed, which is even better. It is a fantastic launch pad as we head towards the World Cup."
Despite their Dublin disappointment, 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.
Johnson has uncovered new Test-quality players in Alex Corbisiero and Tom Wood, while his team won 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 10 September in New Zealand.
Johnson added: "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.
"We got ourselves to 4-0 [in the Six Nations] and couldn't quite finish it off. We will come back and be a better team the next time we play.
"This will keep us humble with our feet on the ground, there is no doubt about that. Games like this one reinforce to players what they need to do to get better.
"We have a good group of players who are only going to get better. It is an exciting group and this [defeat] doesn't change that."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney concurred that England could take confidence from the past 12 months, despite their setback in Dublin.
"England have had some exceptionally good results - winning away against Australia and again at home in the autumn.
"Sometimes you are going to get a hiccup along the way. I am sure this was just a hiccup for them and they will come back stronger."
Highlights - Ireland 24-8 England