Six Nations Countdown: England's Chances
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Of course, England’s chances are excellent.
They will be in there hard and determined. After all they have won the International Championship, with its varying number of participants, 31 times since 1883, and, after all, they have won it twice on the last three series. But then last year’s results were disappointing for England.
They started easily enough with Italy and then had a promising win over Wales at home, but then they lost their last three matches in a row.
The result was that England was with fifth on the final Six Nations log with just winless Italy below them. This came a matter of months after they had failed to reach the knock-out rounds of the Rugby World Cup played in their own country.
England’s 2018 Six Nations Results
England vs Italy: won 46-15 in Rome
England vs Wales: won 12-6 at Twickenham
England vs Scotland: lost 25-13 at Murrayfield
England vs France: lost 22-16 in Paris
England vs Ireland: lost 24-15 at Twickenham
In 2018, they played three away and two at home; in 2019 they have home advantage in three matches with just two away, but the two away are against, at least theoretically, their toughest opponents – Ireland and Wales.
World Rugby’s ranking have Ireland second, England third and Wales fourth. Scotland are seventh, France eighth and Italy 16th.
That match with Ireland on the opening weekend of the 2019 Six Nations is an exciting prospect. The whole of the Six Nations is looked forward to with increasing excitement, but it is especially that match in Dublin that grips the imagination.
You have to start by saying Injury permitting.
Rugby north of the equator is not gentle. It is hard and physical. England has not been exempt from injury as the Premiership, the Heineken Championship and Challenge Cups and the November Tests took their toll, But Billy Vunipola seems to be over his troubles, back playing for Saracens at the start of the year but older brother Mako is one of those who has been injured along with other props – Ellis Genge, Beno Obano and Matt Mullan. Others who have been injured include Joe Launchbury and Chris Robshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te’o, Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Marland Yarde, Nick Isiekwe, Dan Robson and Sam Underhill.
England has more rugby players than any other country in the world, nearly two million of them, but there is only one Sam Underhill. If this newish international cannot play it would be a massive setback for England.
Underhill seemed the answer to England’s major problem in the 2018 Six Nations – the breakdown. In rugged Underhill, they had a flank who could compete with the best at the breakdown, apart from his other attributes.
Hand in hand with the breakdown problem, was England’s penchant for conceding penalties – 58 in five matches, the most in the tournament. In contrast, Ireland, England’s significant first opponents, conceded 34.
But there is lots of fire power in the England side. They have four excellent runners to form their back three, players with speed, strength and vision – Elliot Daly, Jonny May, Chris Ashton and Jack Nowell. Getting the ball to them has not been as smooth as they would like and that needs fixing. Amongst the forwards, too, there are men with strong drive – Billy Vunipola, Mark Wilson, the versatile Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler and Jamie George.
Coaches are often more prominent than players and the two grabbing the news for England are Australian Eddie Jones and New Zealander John Mitchell. Mitchell is new this year but since he was bought into England in 2015 Jones’s win record is 80%.
England’s Six Nations Fixtures 2019
2 February 2019
Ireland vs England at Aviva Stadium
9 February 2019
England vs France at Twickenham
23 February 2019
Wales vs England at Principality Stadium
9 March 2019
England vs Italy at Twickenham
16 March 2019
England vs Scotland at Twickenham
Results in 2018
England played 12, won 6 and lost six.
In November England won three of its four matches. Two of the matches had late controversies – the victory over South Africa and the defeat at the hands of the All Blacks. Even the victory over the Wallabies had its controversy with a second shoulder-first tackle by petulant Owen Farrell.
England beat Italy 46-15 at Stadio Flaminio, Rome
England beat Wales 12-6 at Twickenham
Scotland won 25-13 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
France won 22-16 at Stade de France, Paris
Ireland won 24-15 at Twickenham
South Africa won 42-39 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
South Africa won 23-12 at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
England beat South Africa 25-10 at Newlands
England beat South Africa 12-11 at Twickenham
New Zealand won 16-15 at Twickenham
England beat Japan 35-15 at Twickenham
England beat Australia 37-18 at Twickenham
Of course, England can win. Their performance against New Zealand, when they scored two tries to one and came within an ace of a winning third, emphasises that they can win, and they have done it 31 times in the past. But they may also come third behind Ireland and Wales.
By Paul Dobson,