Sport

Six Nations Preview: England

In the week leading up to the start of the 2016 RBS Six Nations, Craig Wright will be looking at each of the nations bidding to be crowned champions on 19 March. In his penultimate preview, he looks at how England might fare in this year’s tournament.

Rugby World Cup recap: The lesser said about this, the better for most England fans. Billed as one of the favourites for a competition being held in their back garden, the English fell horribly short of expectations. Rumours of a rift between the coaching staff wouldn’t have helped, but a vast number of the 31-man squad taken to the tournament picked the worst month possible to suffer a loss of form. Wales and Australia suffered no such drama, and England were left wondering just where it had all gone wrong as they exited the competition at the group stage – the only home nation to do so.

State of the Nation: All change at Twickenham, as the RFU look to consign their Rugby World Cup failure to the history books. Stuart Lancaster stepped aside of his own volition in the aftermath of the tournament, whilst assistants Mike Catt, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree were given the boot soon afterwards. In comes Eddie Jones, tasked with replicating his success with Japan at the World Cup when in charge one of the biggest jobs in world rugby. On the pitch, there’s a new captain in the controversial form of Dylan Hartley, with Chris Robshaw relieved of his duty but kept in the squad. An exciting crop of youngsters spearheaded by Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly promise much, but can they deliver on the international stage?

One to watch: Elliot Daly (below). How the Wasps centre has been left uncapped for so long is beggar’s belief. Blessed with a rapid turn of speed, great footwork and handling skills and a sharp rugby brain, Daly will surely win his first cap in this Six Nations. One of the players of the season in the Aviva Premiership thus far, Eddie Jones cannot ignore the young centre for much longer. Left out of the squad for this weekend, expect to see him involved later in the tournament.

What they said:

Eddie Jones: “My memories of watching the Six Nations when I was growing up is that it’s full of tradition, emotion, rivalry, and great players. I can’t wait to be involved in it.”

Dylan Hartley: “Captaincy’s obviously a huge role, but I need to focus on my game first and foremost, and make sure I get in the team.”

Title chances: Even the most die-hard of England fans realises that their team will not be the favourites for this championship, contrary to what some sections of the media will have you believe. A new style of play always takes time to get used to, and Dylan Hartley’s leadership will come under ever-increasing scrutiny. However, Jones is a shrewd operator, and knows how to get the best from his players. Expect them to cause problems for all of the teams in the competition, but they might be found out on a couple of occasions.

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