Expectations were high for England ahead of the Six Nations. Despite the habitual questions and quibbles from fans about certain squad selections, generally speaking, confidence was high that Eddie Jones had chosen a group of players who were more than capable of winning the prestigious annual championship.
Buoyed by performances at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which included impressive demolition of southern hemisphere powerhouses Australia and New Zealand, it was an inspired display on the day by South Africa which eventually proved the undoing of England in the final. The core of that side remained intact, which meant that heading into the Six Nations this year, few doubted the capability of an England side that is hungry for success.
After announcing his squad and in comments highlighted by the Daily Mail, Jones proudly declared that England will become The Greatest Rugby Team The World Has Ever Seen. The addition of some fresh blood alongside the established and experienced core players, perhaps an indication that beyond seeming boastful, the England head coach is filled with confidence in those chosen to fly the flag for their country.
Fumbles & Frustration in France
Arguably the biggest problem with being boastful is that you have to back up your claims. The opening encounter for England was never going to be easy, although against a France team in the midst of wholesale coaching and player changes, the visitors to Paris were expected to open their Six Nations campaign with a victory that would demonstrate their credentials. The French were having none of that.
Fabien Galthié apparently used the South African performance against England in the World Cup final as his inspiration, according to The Guardian. With the assistance of Shaun Edwards, the aim was to establish a defensive unit that would prove difficult to breach, shaping relatively untested internationals into a team that could resist anything England could send their way.
Full-time in Paris.
France 24-17 England
A late brace from Jonny May can't stop England making a losing start to the Six Nations. pic.twitter.com/7pvBpD12nd
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) February 2, 2020
Their work proved effective at the Stade de France, as the hosts pulverized a distinctly average England into fumbles and mistakes during a one-sided first half. Already 17 points ahead at the break, France extended that to 24 before Jonny May mounted a one-man comeback for his side, scoring two excellent tries. Aside from a late penalty from Owen Farrell, the French held their nerve and claimed a deserved victory having out-played and out-fought England.
Storm & Success in Scotland
Following the fumbles in France, there were no margins for error if England were to maintain hopes of winning the Six Nations this year, heading into the game with Scotland. The dire weather conditions at Murrayfield hardly helped matters, making for one of the ugliest contests imaginable, filled with errors and mistakes from both sides.
It certainly wasn’t a day for quality kicks or line-out throws, as the high wind gusted across the pitch and swayed the posts. Fingers fumbled passes and neither side could get any real momentum going in Edinburgh, yet England somehow managed to prevail. After the remarkable 38-38 draw at Twickenham last year, this turned out to be a low-scoring affair in the midst of Storm Ciara.
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) February 8, 2020
Still tied at 3-3 with 10 minutes left on the clock, Ellis Genge finally broke the deadlock with the only try of the game, following a five-metre scrum. Having scored one penalty in the first half, Owen Farrell added to his tally with another and a conversion in the second. It wasn’t pretty, but England had got the job done against Scotland and as the latest rugby betting odds would suggest, hopes of winning the Six Nations remain intact.
Composure & Concentration Needed at Home
After two extremely challenging encounters to start the Six Nations, both for very different reasons, England now getting to play their first home games of the championship will be a huge plus. That said, the first test will be against an Ireland side who have looked strong and competitive during their opening wins against Scotland and Wales in Dublin. There’s no margin for any more mistakes and errors.
Providing the Irish can be beaten at Twickenham at the end of February, the Triple Crown can be completed at the start of March with victory against visiting Wales, who are a shadow of the side which accomplished a magnificent Grand Slam in the Six Nations last year. By that point, we’ll know whether England are still capable of winning the Six Nations or not, with just one game remaining in Italy.
Having talked up the expectations of greatness for this England side, Jones will be keen to avoid being left with egg on his face, if his side are unable to deliver the goods. After the disappointment of losing out in the World Cup final towards the end of last year, a third successive failure to win the Six Nations would undoubtedly leave England fans calling for a change of head coach and a new direction for the team.