November 14, 2018, 6:28

Six Nations 2018 Championship in focus: England

Six Nations 2018 Championship in focus: England

Will defending champions England become the first team in history to win the Six Nations outright for three consecutive years?

A Grand Slam in 2016 in Eddie Jones’ maiden year in charge was followed by a successful defence of the title last year, albeit without the Slam.

However, with other nations delivering strong autumn campaigns and England’s substantial injury list, the route to lifting the trophy on Super Saturday will not be an easy one.

Championship record

  • Six Nations since 2000: Six-time winners (2000, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017)
  • Overall: 28 titles outright (1883, 1884, 1892, 1910, 1913, 1914, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1937, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1980, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017)

Fixtures

  • Italy – Stadio Olimpico – Sunday, February 4 – 3pm (GMT)
  • Wales – Twickenham Stadium – Saturday, February 10 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Scotland – Murrayfield Stadium – Saturday, February 24 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • France – Stade de France – Saturday, March 10 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Ireland – Twickenham Stadium – Saturday, March 17 – 2.45pm (GMT)

Last year

After an extremely impressive 2016 campaign in which England romped to the Grand Slam under Jones, they set about earning a first back-to-back Slam since 1992 and title defence since 2001.

While performances in 2017 were not at the same level as 2016 – victories against France and Wales could have gone either way – the title was secured before their trip to Dublin on the final weekend after Ireland’s defeat to Wales.

A Grand Slam and world record for Test victories in succession was on the line in the Irish capital, but England were outplayed by Ireland and missed out on a place in history.

What’s hot?

England’s record of 22 wins in 23 Test matches under Jones provides a more than solid foundation for this forthcoming Six Nations.

Since the lows of their pool-stage exit at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, England have become a side that knows how to generate victories from all kinds of situations.

The side’s 22 victories have included high-flying performances and wins that have been ground out when the chips were down or when game plans needed to be changed on the hoof.

England’s adaptability and experience should hold them in good stead during this Championship and the host of fresh faces arriving into the camp could bring energy, dynamism and a fearless nature to the squad.

What’s not?

Injuries. England’s injury list seems to be growing by the day.

When Jones announced his squad for their first game against Italy, the list of players unavailable to him was 13. However, that has grown noticeably since.

Henry Slade has been ruled out for four weeks due to a shoulder injury, Kyle Sinckler was sent home from their training camp in Portugal due to a hamstring complaint and Jack Nowell is ‘three or four weeks’ away from full fitness.

On top of that trio, there are question marks over Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown being ready for England’s opener against Italy.

The most glaring issues thrown up by England’s injury count arrive at No 8 and loosehead prop.

With Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes on the sidelines, England are without key ball-carriers in their pack and the momentum they use to get on top of teams.

When it comes to the front row, Mako Vunipola is fit right now but any injury to him would see uncapped Lewis Boyce and Alec Hepburn competing to take the reins on that side of the scrum – a tough ask during a Championship as competitive as the Six Nations.

What’s changed?

Since England’s last Test outing, Jones has extended his future with the national set-up and the RFU have confirmed the succession plan for selecting the coach that will take over after him.

When it comes to the present, that decision is unlikely to have shaken up their Six Nations preparations but it is a change nonetheless.

A change which is more likely to impact the present is the fact this England squad is likely to be far more of a moving feast than previous campaigns.

Over the course of the next two months there will be returnees from suspension and a number of players likely to be returning from injury too.

England’s head coach will have plenty to think about and multiple decisions to make regarding re-introducing players straight into Test level rugby or not.

Key player

Owen Farrell. Following the British & Irish Lions tour in the summer, Farrell’s game time was managed during the autumn internationals with the playmaker making one starting appearance against Australia.

Over the next two months, the 26-year-old’s presence and leadership will be vital for England.

The Saracen is crucial in every area of England’s output – a defensive leader, goal-kicker and visionary in attack alongside George Ford. His contribution is immense and experience will be vital.

England’s 34-man squad for the 2018 Six Nations:

BACKS (15):

Back-Three: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Nathan Earle (Saracens), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints)

Centre: Owen Farrell (Saracens), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors)

Fly-half: George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Marcus Smith (Harlequins)

Scrum-half: Danny Care (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

FORWARDS (19):

Hooker: Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)

Prop: Lewis Boyce (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Tom Dunn (Bath Rugby), Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Thomas (Bath Rugby), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)

Second Row: Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Launchbury (Wasps)

Back-row: Gary Graham (Newcastle Falcons), Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby).

Sourse: skysports.com

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