MANCHESTER, 10 Oct – England head coach Stuart Lancaster praised the huge show of support from 50,788 fans inside the City of Manchester Stadium as his team waved goodbye to their Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign with a 60-3 win over Uruguay.
"It's been a tough week, the boys have been hurting and it's given them a huge lift," said Lancaster after Saturday’s final Pool A encounter, which saw veteran forward Nick Easter and RWC debutant wing Jack Nowell (pictured) claim hat-tricks as England ran in 10 tries.
Any talk of a north-south divide in rugby union was quashed by fans who roared the team from the pre-match warm-up to their farewell lap of honour round the pitch – with renditions of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that would have been a credit to Twickenham.
Defeats to Wales and Australia in Pool A meant England were playing for pride, but it was Uruguay who had the first points on the board with a straightforward penalty from Felipe Berchesi in the second minute.
Anthony Watson started the scoring for England, before 37-year-old Easter began the final appearance of his Rugby World Cup career with a drive over the line from a lineout.
It made him the third-oldest try scorer in the tournament’s history, and he got another on 23 minutes to make him the first number eight to score two tries for England in a Rugby World Cup match. "I thought his shift was fantastic and belied his age at 37. Everyone is chuffed for him. He is a top bloke," Lancaster said.
The South Americans were reduced to 14 men on the stroke of the half with captain Santiago Vilaseca sent to the sin bin, and England made their weight of numbers count after the restart with Watson's second for 26-3, and Henry Slade's chargedown and kick-through ensured the young centre marked his World Cup debut with a try.
"There's a huge amount of talent in there and they are not scared to take people on," captain Chris Robshaw said. "It is an honour to train and play with them the whole time. You always see something special. We have got a couple of things wrong every now and then but there is so much potential in that side."
Uruguay were now tiring and Danny Care released Nowell for his first Rugby World Cup score, with Owen Farrell’s conversion making it 38-3 before the Wigan-born back came off to applause from the home crowd – a tale of what could have been after his kicking almost led England to a win over Wales.
"It's frustrating that we were 22-12 up in that game but didn't finish it off," Lancaster said, when reflecting on the failures of the campaign. "We've tried to play good, exciting rugby but we've not nailed every big moment in every big game."
Farrell was still putting his coat on when Easter got his third in the far corner, Nowell claimed his second and third in the space of five minutes, and England were awarded a penalty try which George Ford converted – after three misses in a row – to round it off at 60-3 at the death.
"We are amateurs and they hit us very hard, but we need to maintain this level," said Uruguay scrum-half Agustin Ormaechea. "Our aim was also to grow rugby in Uruguay and we have achieved that."
England must now watch the knockouts of their home tournament with regrets about the past and questions over their future, but it may be a small consolation that they left a Rugby World Cup pitch in an atmosphere of celebration and not despondency for the first time since 2003.