Six Nations Pedigree:
The reigning champions missed out on a Grand Slam last year when they were defeated by Ireland in Dublin. What followed was a disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign of which the pain is too much to revisit. Which brings us to the present, where with an inexperienced squad and new coaching staff England are looking to win their fifth Six Nations title, and their second Grand Slam.
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 successful 2003 Rugby World Cup.
Biggest Six Nations Win: 80 – 23 (v Italy 2001)
Biggest Six Nations Defeat: 13 – 43 (v Ireland 2007)
Current Form: W-W-W-W-W-L
Key player: Chris Robshaw
England’s new captain, at least for the first two matches against Scotland and Italy, comes into the side to win only his second cap and to lead a new team, of which just under half of the 22 did not travel to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. His form for Harlequins both in terms of leadership and the way he has played has been exceptional. On top of being captain, he must dominate the breakdown in the number 7 shirt, even if he is not a natural fetcher.
One to watch: Owen Farrell
Lavished with praise over the last 12 months and rightly so, Farrell has made the breakthrough to the senior side at the age of 20, after Premiership success with Saracens last year. A long-term option either at 12 or 10, Farrell will most likely start at 13 against Scotland, and also be England’s chosen goalkicker. In possession of an excellent skill set along with maturity beyond his years, Farrell is a very exciting prospect.
RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Saturday 4th February, Scotland v England, 17:00, Murrayfield
Saturday 11th February, Italy v England, 16:00, Stadio Olimpico
Saturday 25th February, England v Wales, 16:00, Twickenham
Sunday 11th March, France v England, 15:00, Stade de France
Saturday 17th March, England v Ireland, 17:00, Twickenham
Key Clash: Scotland v England
England’s campaign certainly won’t be over if they lose at Murrayfield, but given that it’s the first start for around eight new caps and a new coaching setup, a loss here leaves England with a tough run of fixtures. An upset losing away to Italy isn’t out of the question, whilst winning in Paris seems too difficult. That leaves the home matches against an Irish and Welsh side who could be eyeing up a Championship depending on the result of their first round clash. Therefore, England must win at Murrayfield, by whatever way possible, something they have not done since 2004.
Odds: 4/1 to win.
Argument that says they can win it:
The unknown. No one, including the opposition, knows how England’s new team will perform together at this level, not even their own coaches. This element of surprise, plus the integration of exciting talent including Farrell, Robshaw, Charlie Sharples and Ben Morgan, means that if they can gel quick enough England could become a threat. Combine that with a good run of results with victories over Scotland and Italy, and momentum could lead to a hard-fought win over Wales given their weakened tight five. From there, a miracle in Paris and a groundout victory over Ireland at Twickenham behind them could bring success.
Argument that says they can’t:
By far the more realistic argument. England are a team in transition; a squad and almost a whole organisation undergoing an extreme makeover following the scarring of a disastrous RWC campaign. The number of new players, plus injuries to key personnel in Toby Flood, Courtney Lawes, Manu Tuilagi and Tom Wood, mean that England’s selection is simply too inconsistent to be successful. History shows that the most successful teams are those with the most experience of both playing together, which England simply do not have.
Coach Stuart Lancaster says:
“We’ve talked about some of the lessons that we needed to learn collectively and I have made it clear what is expected from an England player. We’ve said this is the way it’s going to be. It’s about creating an environment that shapes behaviour and hopefully everyone will see a change. This is a new team and any side I have coached, I would be disappointed if people termed us as arrogant. We want to be known as a humble, hard-working, honest team who graft and get on with the job and represent England with pride.”
Captain Chris Robshaw says:
“There’s lots of other leaders in the group and they have been great since we met up. It’s not about myself because there are six or seven guys around me who all have a massive role to play, whether that’s bossing scrums, line-outs, attack, defence…Stuart (Lancaster), Graham (Rowntree) and Andy (Farrell) have given us the game plan and it’s up to us to get it across to the other players to drive the standards and the squad forward in the right way.”
The Champions have undergone such a much-needed radical overhaul, that winning the Six Nations seems impossible. In fact, they have slipped behind France, Ireland and Wales in the pecking order, which would leave them finishing 4th, which is not even guaranteed given their record over the Scottish border. 4th.
by Ben Coles