It’s been a decent couple of years for England in the Six Nations. Back to back champions, one being a Grand Slam plus managing to get a law changed by Italy got on their nerves at Twickenham can be seen as nothing but a GOOD thing in their eyes. As we head into the 2018 tournament, the contract extension signed by Eddie Jones in January has also increased the the level of “look at us, don’t we do things right, eh?” smugness around the RFU, but are there many reasons why the squad should be confident of a successful title defence?
Twelve months ago, on the very last day of the tournament England went down by 13 points to nine in Dublin and failed to complete the double Grand Slam; their only loss in 24 games since the previous defeat to Australia put England out of their own Rugby World Cup. On the face of it, this should give reason for confidence ahead of the 2018 Six Nations, but the question for many is whether England will retain the trophy, never mind any chat about Grand Slams again.
While only two of their five matches are at home, one of those games is against Ireland, where all the sensible opinion about a championship win is being directed.
It all starts with a trip to Rome to face Italy who, even with a chink of improvement light under Conor O’Shea, will take an absolute pasting. Especially since they can’t do that annoying/hilarious ruck thing anymore (see above). Eddie Jones’ side are a clearly the odds-on option with Betsafe to win that opener but, if the Italians frustrate England through some other Brendan Venter masterpiece as they did last season, there could be some value for those that use the bet in play markets.
England travel to Paris in week four to face a French side who have a new coach, some new additions to the squad and the interesting stench of the unknown about them once more. But they’ll likely be shit again. Plus ca change. The truly interesting fixture is at Murrayfield on February 24 against an improving Scottish unit whose own autumn campaign included a record victory over Australia, although that was before nearly their entire squad became victim to some sort of injury voodoo curse. Scotland had a decent look about them last year before they were humiliated in an insurance job score at Twickenham. However, England would do well not to dwell on that victory too much as the 2017 Autumn proved that this team under Gregor Townsend can play both nice and with nasty resilience when required. They will also be at home in front a Scottish crowd more up for it than they have been for years. Don’t be surprised if England lose.
There have been some boosts on the injury front for the reigning Six Nations Champions have also received boosts on the injury front with Maro Itoje taking to the field ahead of schedule after suffering a sickening jaw fracture in December, there were fears that the Saracens forward may miss the entire tournament but, given that he is clearly not human he is back. However, the back row in particular remains decimated with the luckless Billy Vunipola out along with Nathan Hughes, world’s quietest talisman Chris Robshaw and the banned Disk Jockey James Haskell. Sam Underhill is promising, young Sam Simmons of Exeter and Zach Mercer are exciting but significantly lacking experience. As Eddie Jones said of the back rows who were able to train yesterday “The most capped players out of those [back row] guys is Nick Isiekwe – he’s 19. He’s failed his driving test five times. So he can’t even drive anywhere, and he’s our most experienced player” Not a ringing endorsement of England’s resources.
Some of England’s opponents are not having a great deal of luck on the injury front; a series of issues for Wales has been exacerbated by Dan Biggar, who left the field during Ospreys’ match against Clermont with his shoulder in a sling, along with Scotland’s many issues.
A team that does not have many worries either on the domestic front or in their international squad is Ireland. Absolutely nobody should be looking past them in 2018.