Former South Africa and Italy boss Nick Mallett has backed England to win the Six Nations based on their schedule.
Eddie Jones' side will have the advantage of facing reigning champions Ireland and old rivals Wales on home soil at Twickenham this year, and Mallett believes playing in front of a home crowd may be the deciding factor in those close contests.
Ireland under Joe Schmidt have won back-to-back Championships but are nursing key injuries and having lost the leadership of Paul O'Connell, a hat-trick of titles might be beyond them according to Mallett, who spoke to Planet Rugby at the Accenture Analysis launch ahead of the 2016 Six Nations earlier this week.
"Ireland have to get over that psychological knock of that (Rugby World Cup) defeat against Argentina, which was really comprehensive. They have lost some big leaders, not least Paul O’Connell, so let’s see how they go,” Mallett said.
"My view is that England have got a good run, it’s really set up for them.
"Win against Scotland, you get Italy away to play some youngsters to see how they go, setting you up for two big home and then you play for the Grand Slam in Paris – what could be nicer than that?
"I think really it’s England’s to lose."
That’s even though Mallett doesn’t necessarily feel that new England captain Dylan Hartley has the subtleties required for a skipper at international level.
The weekly total of Hartley’s number of suspensions has been paraded incessantly since the turn of the year, and the 29-year-old seemingly has it all to prove, especially whether he can keep his head under the immense pressure of his new role.
"Hartley’s been picked for all his positive points, which means he leads from the front, he’s confrontational and has a hard edge. But those are equally his weak points," said Mallett.
"Hartley has captained Northampton, but as captain there he has got into trouble with the way he has spoken to referees.
"The leopard is going to have to change his spots in terms of his behaviour towards referees in particular, which makes a hell of a difference to winning and losing key games.
"You look at the respect which John Smit and Richie McCaw were held – Richie in 149 games only had three or four yellow cards in his life! Those are going to be huge question marks.
"I love Hartley for his playing performance, but he’s going to have completely change his ways. You have to be calm, measured and non-confrontational with the referee."
Hartley’s suitability might be doubted but the same can’t be said for England’s resources.
Mallett, adamant that the side has underperformed since their World Cup triumph now over 12 years ago, believes that whilst Eddie Jones has been handed a treasure chest to work with, that bounty comes wth high expectations.
Four second-placed finishes followed by World Cup failure led to the end of Stuart Lancaster’s time in charge. Jones knows full well that finishing as runners-up again in the Six Nations will not be accepted.
Mallett explained: "England are a special case, a team that from an organisational and structural basis should be in the top three in the world all the time.
"With the amount of players they have and the amount of money the RFU has, the quality of the coaching and players in Premiership – with five teams in quarter-finals of the European Cup for the first time – and as well as doing well in the Junior World Championship… the pressure is on.
"It’s no good coming second. Eddie is there to win a Grand Slam and a couple of Championships.
"He wants to go to the 2019 Rugby World Cup as a serious contender and that’s what they’ve appointed him for."
Nick Mallett is part of the Accenture Analysis Team during the RBS 6 Nations, providing fans with insight and analysis to #Seebeyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby or visit accenture-rugby.com. Download the Official RBS 6 Nations app.