Six Nations
No-nonsense Dylan Hartley can help England push Wales for Six Nations title
Mark Cueto
February 5, 2016
Should England change their national anthem?

Off the back of that Rugby World Cup performance, how can England fans possibly keep a straight face and say we can win the Six Nations?

Well, here goes... I have a feeling we can do something.

It's typical, isn't it? I don't think it will be a Grand Slam year, but I think England can take the championship to the wire, possibly challenged by Wales. The thing that puts me off Wales is their club sides not performing in the Champions Cup -- the same goes for Ireland; neither country has even one quarterfinalist between them. But Wales' World Cup performance, where they emerged from a group that included England and Australia, coupled with players returning from injuries and so on, makes them tournament favourites in my eyes.

Eddie Jones has named his first side to face Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, and it's vastly different from the side Stuart Lancaster put out at the start of the World Cup in the game against Fiji. Only seven starters remain -- Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, George Ford, Joe Marler, Dan Cole and Chris Robshaw, the deposed captain.

In as skipper is Dylan Hartley, and it's good to see him out there. I think we missed someone like him at the World Cup, which he was dropped for due to indiscipline. Personally, I think he's a great choice as captain. Look at England captains in recent times -- Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson, Lewis Moody -- and none of them have been scared to start a scrap or get involved when it's needed. I know Dylan has his discipline issues, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt. He's got over 60 caps for England with only one yellow card, so clearly he can reign it in on that higher level.

The team for Scotland is full of experience, which is good, with a few new caps on the bench in the shape of Paul Hill, Ollie Devoto and Jack Clifford. Danny Care back at nine shows Eddie Jones wants to play with a bit of pace, too.

© Stu Forster/Getty Images

Evans: Grand Slam would be a miracle
%]

George Ford and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12 is an odd one, though. If you're going purely on form, you'd have to pick Farrell at 10. On the other hand, he showed his ability playing 12 for Saracens, so they can halve the workload almost. It's a safe choice again. Jones hasn't picked Brad Barritt, and Manu Tuilagi is injured, so there aren't many options. If everyone is fit, it's Farrell, Tuilagi and Joseph for me.

Speaking of Joseph, he's got the nod ahead of Elliot Daly. A lot of people wanted Daly to get the call, but ultimately, Joseph is almost in control of that shirt off the back of the last 12 months. I know Elliot is a travelling reserve but it would have been nice to get him on the bench and throw him in there. He's been in incredible form for Wasps, and scored a world-class try against Leinster. If ever there's a time to try someone out, it's when they're on form. You've got to chuck these guys in when they're confident in what they're doing on the field. I'm sure they'll get an opportunity at some point, but maybe with it being his first game, Jones wanted to play it a little bit more safe.

Josh Beaumont is similarly in form, so it's disappointing not to see him in there. Again, experience seems to be the call from Jones when it comes to the back row. If we were nit-picking, and looking for areas of concern in the team, the back row is a worry. Chris Robshaw and James Haskell are at six and seven, but both of them are sixes for me. We haven't got an out-and-out poacher on the field. It's a concern, particularly if you look at the way the World Cup went. The game's getting quicker and refs are looking for a faster game, so it puts more emphasis on the breakdown. It was a glaringly obvious problem with that England team in the World Cup.

Don't expect England to reinvent the wheel here, but I think set pieces are going to be the focus. The principle: get good ball from the forwards and move it quickly. England showed that they can play that way in the Six Nations last year by putting 50 points on France in the final game, when the only option was to go out and score points if they were going to overhaul Ireland in a truly Super Saturday.

What we've fallen away from is having a forward pack that can dominate. Guaranteed scrum and lineout ball is important, and something England used to always have. Against Australia in the decisive pool match at the World Cup, the Wallabies opted for scrums at penalties and turned us over -- that is unheard of, especially to be dominated by an Aussie team.

That's the backbone of English rugby, and something that Eddie Jones has made a point of talking about, so I expect the pack to put in a huge performance.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Football

  • Cricket

  • Rugby

    • Days
    • Hrs
    • Mins
    • Secs

    F1 - Bahrain GP

  • OtherLive >>

    Boxing - Nelson v Wilson; Simmons v Dickinson; Joshua v Gavern (Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle)
    Golf - Houston Open
    Snooker - China Open
    Tennis - Miami Open