With the Six Nations set for kick-off this weekend, Planet Rugby takes a look at each team's chances in 2013. Next up, England!
With the Six Nations set for kick-off, Planet Rugby takes a look at each team's chances. Next up, England!
England are the bookies favourites this season due to a decent end to 2012 and also their three home games on the schedule. But will they kick on or be left to contemplate another false dawn?
Last Year: Second place for an England side under the tutelage of interim coach Stuart Lancaster was a decent finish after what was a forgetful World Cup in New Zealand. Publicly noticeable stains had unfortunately left the white jersey far from respected by even some of their own players, let alone those outside the nation. Step forward a back to basics approach from Lancaster which put England's players on the straight and narrow and left some of their old guard out in the cold. England did take time to find their feet and were fortunate to beat Scotland before a narrow victory in Italy saw them go two from two. However, the next game against Wales at Twickenham ended in defeat when a Scott Williams try saw England fall 12-19. That led to the Welsh motoring to the Grand Slam – but such an achievement might well have been England's as impressive wins over France and Ireland followed soon after.
This year: Twelve months ago Stuart Lancaster was in the process of putting England back together again. He's done a pretty good job so far, with a strong Six Nations backed up by a memorable victory over New Zealand. Now the task is to kick on and prove that the All Blacks success was no fluke. Expectation is high – with France coach Philippe Saint-Andre saying the Red Rose are favourites for 2013's title – so England desperately need to avoid any slip-ups against a Scotland squad that is far from stable at present before pushing on for possible silverware. Lancaster's coaching team has had a year together and seem like a group striving toward the same goals, with restoring sound attitudes and pride in the jersey reaping rewards so far. Progress is the key thing however and it would be a massive disappointment if England finished this Six Nations with anything other than a top two spot.
Players to watch: It has been a monumental rise for lock Joe Launchbury as awards and recognition have been laid at his door since making his debut for London Wasps. Club form led to international appearances and he is now a real contender to make the British & Irish Lions tour – should that strong form continue in February and March. Of course, the form and decision making of flanker Chris Robshaw is also going to be under the microscope while it will be interesting to see if Chris Ashton can carry his late-Pool Heineken Cup form into the Six Nations. If so, England have a potent finisher which will significantly help their push to reclaim the title they relinquished to Wales last year. Also watch out for Billy Twelvetrees.
Prospects: With three home games on their schedule, many are predicting good things for England. However, tough trips to Dublin and Cardiff are going to test their resolve as both Ireland and Wales are also in with a shout of the title. Playing France on home soil is always a positive sign pre-tournament so if they can get off on the right foot against Scotland – with a better performance than the narrow win last season – they will travel to Ireland confident and face a side possibly nursing a few wounds from what should be a scrap with Wales. 2nd.
2 February: v Scotland – Home
10 February: v Ireland – Away
23 February: v France – Home
10 March: v Italy – Home
16 March: v Wales – Away