Six Nations preview: England look to build on promising World Cup showing

Rugby Wednesday January 17, 2024 By: Harry Howes

With the Six Nations just a few weeks away, we’re taking an in-depth look at all of the home nations taking part, starting with England.

Steve Borthwick took a while to get going after taking over from Eddie Jones at the end of 2022 but optimism is high following an impressive showing at the World Cup in France.

There were fears that England would struggle at the tournament but they managed to put together a string of strong performances and they narrowly missed out on a second consecutive final as they lost late to South Africa in the semis.

Borthwick’s side will take great encouragement from their displays in the autumn as they look to improve on last year’s Six Nations showing. A disappointing campaign saw them finish fourth in the standings, with wins over Italy and Wales their only returns.

England last won the competition back in 2020 but with the likes of Ireland and France as strong as ever, they’ll need to step up another level if they want to claim the title for a record 40th time, and the eighth time since a sixth nation was added.

When are England playing?

Italy v England – Saturday 3rd February, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

England v Wales – Saturday 10th February, Twickenham, London

Scotland v England – Saturday 24th February, Murrayfield, Edinburgh

England v Ireland – Saturday 9th March, Twickenham, London

France v England – Saturday 16th March, Groupama Stadium, Lyon

The dawning of a new era

Despite defying expectations at the World Cup, Borthwick would be unwise to rest on his laurels. England now enter a crucial cycle where they’ll have one eye on the 2027 competition in Australia.

Many of the players at England’s disposal last year will not be around for the next World Cup, so Borthwick now has an opportunity to begin to bed in players that can contribute in the future.

In fact, of the 36 players that initially travelled to France, 13 of them are the wrong side of 30, including Owen Farrell, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Laws and Joe Marler. Meanwhile, Mako Vunipola announced his immediate retirement from international rugby this week.

Borthwick will need to look at the younger contingent of his squad to build the foundation for the next World Cup, with the likes of Marcus Smith, Tom Curry, Jack van Poortvliet and Freddie Steward already well integrated into the squad.

Smith has often been rotated at fly-half with captain Farrell and George Ford but the Harlequins sensation has more than shown his capabilities and he will be a vital cog in the England side for years to come. Elsewhere, his Quins teammate Alex Dombrandt missed out on the World Cup squad but he could come back into the fray for the Six Nations.

England will still need to rely on their experienced players for the upcoming competition, as well as over the next few years. But combining that with youth, with the intention of nurturing their younger stars to take over when the time is right should be the top priority of Borthwick and his coaching staff.

Can England win the Six Nations?

Why not?! They still carry the scars of their poor showing a year ago but at that point they were just a few months into Borthwick’s tenure. They’ve since had time to adjust to his ideas and gel as a camp throughout the World Cup.

France and Ireland are the favourites to go all the way but anything can happen in a one-off match. England will expect to see off the likes of Italy, Scotland and Wales in their opening three games, by which point France and Ireland will have faced each other.

With the two big hitters to play in the final two games, Borthwick won’t have a better opportunity to put October’s World Cup semi-final heartbreak behind him and show the rugby world that his England side mean business.

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