CITY OF MANCHESTER STADIUM -- As the first half of England's farewell match of their own Rugby World Cup inevitably petered out, even those with the most red rose-tinted of spectacles would have been wondering exactly what is in store in the coming months and years if this was meant to be a barometer of this side's future.
But then came the equally inevitable second-half backlash as things clicked and England had the points to show for it with two experienced heads at the heart of their eventually comfortable win over Uruguay.
Coach Stuart Lancaster said during the week he wanted England to put on a show in Manchester against the largely amateur Uruguay; he also predicted that January's revised Elite Player Squad will feature the majority of this current 31-man group. The latter statement presents an interesting quandary over 37-year-old Nick Easter. He was one of England's outstanding players against Uruguay with his physicality causing difficulties, making 29 carries, and he also managed to burrow over for his three tries. His impressive performance also raised questions over exactly why this was his first start of the Lancaster era.
"His shift belied his age," Lancaster said post-match about Easter, whose long-term international prospects are reliant on his body -- Old Father Time waits for no one -- and the perception of whoever is in charge of England heading forward. That he now sits third on the oldest try-scorers list for a World Cup suggests he is past the twilight zone of his career and heading in to the next phase, but he is still some player.
Then there was 28-year-old Danny Care. He was fantastic at scrum-half in a performance which, you expect, was full of pent-up frustration at not having had a chance in this tournament until this match in Manchester. He showed wonderful awareness to put Jack Nowell away for his first try of a hat-trick and boasted superb game management.
Just where they fit into England's future is a problem for whoever is in charge of this side come January. If it is still Lancaster then out of the 'players for the future' category, Nowell and Henry Slade would have given him the most heart against Uruguay.
Slade started at outside centre, was used at first receiver on occasion in attack and then shifted to No.12 when Owen Farrell was replaced by Jonathan Joseph. The Exeter Chiefs playmaker also showed lovely sleights of hand in attack and offered some initiative which has seldom been seen in England's midfield during the World Cup.
Alex Goode also performed well at full-back -- he is still the best fly-half England will never have -- while George Ford was his sprightly self at No.10. Anthony Watson grabbed a brace of scores but it was Nowell who stole his thunder with a hat-trick. His first came off the back of a good Care break, the second being on the opposite wing at the right time and the third thanks to a neat Slade offload which chimed perfectly with his running line.
"People will probably say I should have given him [Slade] an opportunity earlier, but when I started Henry was with the Under-18s. Henry and Jack are talented and having that sort of talent, and the midfield and fly-half talent, is exciting for England," Lancaster said. "Test matches are won in different ways so you need to have the balance between physicality and throwing the ball wide."
But all of this has to be countered with the perspective that this was against Uruguay, a team full of character but short of anything else.
The repercussions from this game will centre around the question: why? Why exactly have England ignored Easter over the last four years? Why was Care not used during this competition? And why is this the first time England have given Slade and Nowell a run out in the World Cup? It adds to the feeling of this being a World Cup of 'what ifs' for England with that late call to kick for touch by Chris Robshaw in the Wales game chief among them.
The future of English rugby is bright with plenty of talent at the coach's disposal but now comes the question of how to get them all working in tandem. Whether that will be Lancaster's task or not will be confirmed in the next fortnight or so but Slade and Nowell will have given the England coach reason to smile in what has been a torrid week. But even he may wonder if he used Easter -- the Benjamin Button of rugby -- enough over the last four years.