In the next of our RBS 6 Nations team previews, Ben Coles looks at the English side and their prospects in this year’s tournament.
Six Nations Pedigree: Winners in the first two Six Nations tournaments, before their infamous Grand Slam en route to the World Cup, England’s record in the early Six Nations tournaments is impressive. From there on though, the reading is not pretty. England have not won a championship, let alone a Grand Slam, in eight years.
Best Six Nations moment:
Dan Luger’s injury-time score in the 42-6 thrashing of Ireland at Lansdowne Road. England dominated from start to finish, and with this win captured the Grand Slam. The momentum from this and the summer test wins against New Zealand and Australia down under were all significant in England’s build-up to the World Cup.
Biggest Six Nations win: 80 – 23 (v Italy 2001)
Biggest Six Nations defeat: 13 – 43 (v Ireland 2007)
Current Form: L-W-L-W-W-L
Much has been made of England’s win against Australia in the summer down under, as well as the win against the Wallabies during the Autumn Internationals, but both of these are accomplishments that the other Six Nations sides have not achieved for a long time. The defeat against South Africa will need to be forgotten, but England will not face as great a physical threat as they did against the Springboks. Consistency, as Martin Johnson stressed at the Six Nations Launch, will be crucial.
Key player: Ben Youngs
Heralded by many as the star of the Autumn Internationals, Youngs has continued to impress in domestic competition. There are still questions marks over his ability playing behind a retreating pack, and his duel with Morgan Parra should be very interesting when England take on France.
One to watch: Phil Dowson
Finally called up to the EPS Squad, Dowson’s inclusion in the squad has been sought after by many for some time. The Northampton flanker is capable at six or seven, and is a top class defender as well as being capable of causing some trouble in the loose.
RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Friday 4th February, Wales v England, 19:45, Millennium Stadium
Saturday 12th February, England v Italy, 14:30, Twickenham
Saturday 26th February, England v France, 17:00, Twickenham
Sunday 13th March, England v Scotland, 15:00, Twickenham
Saturday 19th March, Ireland v England, 17:00, Aviva Stadium
Key clash: Wales v England
England’s jinx against Wales in Cardiff has gone on long enough, and a win against a struggling Welsh side will fill England with confidence. If they can win here and win well, then they could well go on and win the Championship. It’s a tough first fixture, but one they are more than capable of winning.
Odds: Favorites at 9/5 with Paddy Power.
Argument that says they can win it:
Their success against the Southern Hemisphere sides during the Autumn Internationals, Scotland’s win against South Africa aside, means that England must be favourites. The fact that they also have three games in a row at Twickenham gives them the opportunity for momentum. They have arguably the best attacking full back in the competition in Ben Foden, and an excellent front row to set up a strong platform for in-form Leicester half backs Ben Youngs and Toby Flood.
Argument that says they can’t:
Their line-out has suffered two big blows with the loss of Courtney Lawes and Tom Croft; both excellent, very mobile line-out forwards. Lewis Moody’s absence has left a doubt over who will lead the side in the opening games, and he has been a central part of England’s revival over the last 12 months. The trips away to Cardiff and Dublin are tough games for any side, and England will have to make sure they are sharp away from the comfort of playing at Twickenham.
Martin Johnson on Warren Gatland’s comments towards Dylan Hartley. ”For me it’s a bit premature. It’s not my style, it just gives the opposition ammunition. People remember the result of the game, not all the talk beforehand.”
Lewis Moody: “The sheer hunger and excitement and enthusiasm that we have to get out on that pitch in Wales is there to be seen in training. The boys are revved up already for it.”
Eight years has been too long, and while all the other sides seem to be struggling, England are on the up. 1st, but no Grand Slam.
by Ben Coles