They will compete in what could be the most hotly-contested championships in years, with each of the six sides offering a unique challenge.
Eddie Jones’ side look as competitive as ever, following a largely successful set of Autumn internationals at the end of last year. They recorded three wins from four, including a thrashing of Australia that demonstrated how dangerous they can be when things come together.
The only setback was a narrow 15-16 defeat to southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, from which England could still take a vast number of positives.
They will face a similarly monumental task when their 6 Nations campaign begins at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday at 16:45. England will face an Ireland side ranked number two in the world, who have not lost in the 6 Nations in Dublin since 2013. Joe Schmidt’s men have won their last 12 home games, beating every tier-one nation.
Jones selected his 36-man squad last week, and England fans will be pleased to hear that second-row Joe Launchbury and flanker Brad Shields were included despite injury scares just days before. Shields’ return is much-welcomed after fellow back-rowers Chris Robshaw and Sam Underhill were ruled out through injury.
The group travelled to Portugal last week for their training camp.
Another huge boost is that rampaging number 8 Billy Vunipola will be involved in international rugby for the first time since breaking his arm three times. The 26-year-old has scored twice in three games for Saracens since returning.
Centres Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi were included in the backs, offering much-needed variety in the 12 and 13 positions. Bath’s Joseph returns after just one appearance in an injury-hit 9 months, but is still joint top try-scorer for England under Jones.
Perhaps the only concern for Jones is whether relatively inexperienced hookers Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie will be able to fill the void left by co-captain Dylan Hartley. Hartley will miss at least the first couple of rounds with a knee injury.
Key man: Owen Farrell
Fortunately, successful surgery on his thumb will see him return in time for the England’s opening fixture, and the decision to omit Danny Cipriani from the squad emphasizes Eddie Jones’ confidence in the fly-halves fitness.
Farrell is quickly establishing himself as one of the best players in the world, and has been outstanding yet again for Saracens this season. If he plays at 10 at the expense of George Ford as expected, he will need to replicate the intelligence and kicking prowess that has left him at the top of the Premiership points-scorer standings.
With Farrell at his dazzling best, England
One to watch: Henry Slade
Centre Henry Slade made his England debut in 2015, but it wasn’t until the November tests last year that he established himself as a regular starter.
The 25-year-old started three of the four games England played at Twickenham, and his assured performances in a white shirt have left Eddie Jones with a difficult decision in the centres.
With previous favourite at 13 Jonathan Joseph returning, as well as Manu Tuilagi, Jones will have a choice of silky footwork, raw power, or defensive expertise. Embed from Getty Images
Exeter Chiefs star Slade said: “Every time I’ve played for England, I’ve felt more comfortable and confident on each occasion. I feel like I played better as the autumn went on and, hopefully, I can continue in that vein going into the Six Nations.”
Should Slade get the nod in Ireland, he has every chance of building on his classy performances in the Autumn, and could be a key part of England’s title challenge.
Team to beat: Ireland
Although every game in the 6 Nations is colossal, few would disagree that England’s opening game will be the toughest. Ireland’s 16-9 victory over the All Blacks in November will have no doubt turned the heads of their 6 Nations rivals.
Lead by inspirational hooker Rory Best, they have arguably their strongest squad in years, and have every chance of back-to-back Grand Slam’s.
To get a sense of the challenge England face, it is important to consider this; Ireland were named Team of the Year at the World Rugby Awards in November; their squad includes World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton; they are managed by Coach of the Year Joe Schmidt.
Despite the arsenal of talent at Ireland’s disposal, England boss Eddie Jones was bullish about his side’s chances.
“Ireland have got to carry the weight of pressure,” said Jones.
“I am not too worried about Ireland, to be honest. All we can do is prepare as best we can. What people think, whether we are underdogs or favourites, doesn’t affect us.”
Should England leave Dublin with a victory on Saturday, there is every chance that their clash with Wales could be a Grand Slam decider.
But of course, as seen with England’s remarkably disappointing 5th place finish last year, no result is a foregone conclusion in the 6 Nations.
Dark horses: Scotland
Scottish fans may be sick of their side being branded as a potential ‘surprise package’ before almost every 6 Nations, but 2019 may truly be the year they compete with the ‘big boys’.
Although they were beaten by Wales 21-10 in November, Gregor Townsend has assembled
This was highlighted earlier in the Autumn tests when they narrowly lost to South Africa, despite a tremendous effort.
Captain Greig Laidlaw picked out fly-half Finn Russell, who has been in scintillating form for Racing 92 this season, as Scotland’s key man ahead of the tournament.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast, the scrum-half said: “At times, we’re going to have to look to Finn for answers and he needs to be able to give them. I believe now he’s at that point to be able to do that.
“His skill-set is phenomenal, his passing game is wonderful and his kicking game is really good as well – sometimes people forget about that. He’s got good variety and is a good attacking weapon for us.
With a very winnable opener against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday, followed by trip to an inconsistent French side the next week, Scotland have every chance to be in the top half of the table heading into round three. When England meet the Scots on March 16th in the final game of the 6 Nations, there could potentially be more to play for than just the Calcutta Cup.
Official. Eddie Jones signs new England Deal.
England men’s head coach Eddie Jones and the RFU have agreed a contract extension which will see him continue his role until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Jones joined England Rugby at the end of 2015 and has coached the men’s national side on 54 occasions winning 42, drawing one and losing 11 – giving him a win ratio of 78%, the highest in the history of England coaches.
Under Jones, England has won two Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2016, a 3-0 away Test series win against Australia in the same year, an unbeaten run of 18 matches equalling New Zealand’s record and were finalists at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Jones said: “The extension is a great honour for me, but in the current environment, it is only right to acknowledge what a difficult time the world is facing. We are all looking forward to a time when we can get back to playing rugby and use the sport as a force for good in bringing people back together. I never thought coming here four years ago I would be doing a second four years but the circumstances are right. Obviously it is important for the team that we keep improving and my focus will be solely on that.
“I am excited about raising the standards again. We have a great team. We set out four years ago to be the best team in the world and unfortunately we missed that by 80 minutes. Now we want to be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen. It’s a big ambition but I believe we are capable of doing it. We have players with an enhanced reputation, we have a team that is expected to do well, so it’s a great opportunity for us to keep moving forward.”
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU are with everyone impacted by COVID-19, both across the country at large but also within our own rugby union community. In exceptionally difficult times, we are pleased to be sharing some good news. We are delighted that Eddie will continue as head coach to run England’s campaign to take us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. His record since joining speaks for itself and he has proven why he is one of the best coaches in world rugby. The progress shown by England since 2015 has been indisputable and having fielded the youngest-ever team to play in a World Cup final, we know even more growth is possible. We are all excited by what this squad can do and having Eddie leading the team is very important to us.
“We reached an understanding soon after returning from Japan but there were some things that we wanted to make sure worked for both sides. We have announced Eddie’s contract extension a few weeks later than planned as our focus was diverted to support the English rugby community during this difficult time, we are now turning our attention to developing plans to support the rebooting of rugby and a winning England team will provide a vital role in that.”
Ahead of the Guinness Six Nations Jones confirmed Simon Amor and Matt Proudfoot would join Steve Borthwick and John Mitchell as his assistant coaches. Jason Ryles will join later in the year as skills coach following Borthwick’s departure towards the end of the season.
RFU CEO gives COVID-19 planning & support update
Bill Sweeney – RFU, CEO
My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU continue to be with everyone impacted by the difficult and exceptional situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own rugby union community.
Earlier today we held a virtual board meeting and I am writing to advise you of the actions that have been agreed to offer a support package directly funded from the RFU worth £7m to provide support for community clubs in England.
To support clubs we are today announcing that the RFU will be providing a £7m relief package for community clubs. The package includes monies ring fenced and diverted for the community game as well as additional funding. These measures include:
• An early release of £800,000 cash due to clubs through the ticketing fund.
• Early release of final funding payments (£600,000) to Constituent Bodies and suspension of the activity plans against which this was allocated, enabling them to utilise this to provide “immediate support grants” to clubs most in need. In addition £400,000 will be made available to Constituent Bodies who elect to match fund from their own reserves.
• A suspension of the Quarterly loan repayments for clubs with outstanding loans due in March (£335,000).
• The creation of a £5m support loans programme, offering loans of between circa £2k and circa £10k to clubs, with deferred re-payments for six months and repayable over three years.
We will be providing more details on this financial package in the coming week. We will also be issuing regular club recovery updates with practical advice on how government grants can be accessed as well as other business management advice.
We welcome government interventions which will provide business rate holidays and grants for clubs.
The RFU will continue to provide a free helpline to assist clubs with legal and tax related matters: https://www.englandrugby.com/participation/running-your-club/legal-and-administration
Significant progress has been made on the process for considering the implications of ending the season early. We will ensure a fair and balanced outcome for the game and are now committed to update on this by the middle of April.
No one can predict every possible outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown. We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn. We will continue to monitor against this assumption and review and revise planning where necessary.
The RFU had budgeted for a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the country.
The RFU’s biggest asset is also a major cost and the closure of Twickenham Stadium has a significant impact on the revenues we can generate to re-invest back into the game. In that sense we are like every other club in the Union, when we do not stage matches and events we do not generate revenue.
Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this. The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25%. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75%.
We are continuing our support to ensure colleagues and communities are given help to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy and a range of new content will be made available to players and fans across our social media channels.
We are discussing with government and the NHS the role the RFU and Twickenham Stadium can play in providing volunteers as well as support for the NHS including accommodation, parking and meal provisioning.
I am confident that rugby will play a big role in energising communities across England after this difficult period. In the meantime, we are working hard with the wider rugby community to take the necessary measures to safeguard a financially resilient Union so that we can.
Rodney Parade to help in fight against coronavirus
Rodney Parade has become the latest sporting venue to open its doors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Newport stadium has been provided free of charge as a base for front-line NHS staff to check if they have the virus and are able to continue working. At this stage only NHS staff are eligible to be tested at Rodney Parade to see if they have COVID-19. Dragons managing director Mark Jones said: “The health service and care workers are doing an incredible job in such difficult circumstances so we are happy to offer our help and support in any way we can.
“Playing our part in the local community is at the heart of what we’re about at the Dragons and in times of crisis people stick together. We would urge everyone to follow the latest NHS advice on protecting themselves from the virus, particularly to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”
A statement from Aneurin Bevan Health Board read: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is essential for delivering services for the people of Gwent. It is fundamental during this time when the most vulnerable people need us most.
“We have set up a drive-through facility to test staff for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help us get our teams back in to work on the front line. The testing site is located at Rodney Parade in Newport and we ask that everyone practises the stay-at-home guidance and does not visit the site.
“Everyone at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board would like to thank the team at Rodney Parade for their community-focused approach and accommodating us during these difficult times.”