Last Word on Rugby looks at the reasons for English Rugby optimism about the 2022 Six Nations tournament ahead. Despite a fifth-place finish last year, England will be going in with their sights set on the title.
This may seem a bridge too far but, a lot has changed in the past 12 months, and here are reasons for English fans to believe in their Guinness 6 Nations campaign.
2022 Six Nations England playing squad
We have seen a new wave of talent set loose in the international arena with the likes of Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward leading the charge. The Lions tour provided Eddie with the perfect opportunity to replace some of his most trusted servants with fresh faces. The calls for Sam Simmonds to be included have been answered as Billy Vunipola is left out. His brother Mako is also deemed surplus to requirements despite playing in all three Lions Tests over the summer with Sale’s youngster Bevan Rodd preferred instead.
Raffi Quirke and Adam Radwan’s inclusion in the training squad are once again showing that rugby is thriving in the north. Newcastle and Sale have struggled for England recognition in recent times, bar the exception of world-class flanker Tom Curry. Being included in training camps has provided England with x-factor and pace to rejuvenate the stagnant attack of last year. Knocking at the door for a place in the matchday squads over the entire 2022 Six Nations, their age profile is especially exciting with players currently in their position towards the end of their careers.
Jones has introduced players carefully to the team. We did not see an England team in the Autumn where there were lots of players in the starting lineup with almost no international experience. Instead, Jones strategically placed each new player in a position where they had an experienced senior player to lean on. A great example was Marcus Smith – he was partnered with the experience of Ben Youngs, rather than Raffi Quirke. This theme reoccurs for the Calcutta Cup playing group, and reflects both the genius and longterm view of the England selectors.
Eddie Jones has retained 29 players ahead of England’s opening Guinness Six Nations match this weekend.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 1, 2022
England underwent a similar process in 2018 where Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw, and Mike Brown were the headline omissions. However, there is a feeling that those left out have not had the door completely closed on them and we have already seen recalls for Saracens’ duo Jamie George and Elliot Daly as well as Tigers’ flyhalf George Ford.
(1) change in Style
It is not just personnel changes where England have evolved either. A refreshed coaching setup now includes ex-Wasps coach Martin Gleeson, and former Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill that has seen England move away from the turgid kicking strategy that had become the status quo in 2020/21. Instead, a new style of exciting, attacking rugby was developed in the Summer. And this was further developed against much tougher opposition in the Autumn Series.
The physicality that Jones has always talked about and was a signature of the 2019 team that reached the Rugby World Cup final is still there. Instead of being a blunt instrument though, it is now complemented by a creative attack. It is no coincidence that Henry Slade is now showing his form for Exeter on the international stage. He now has a chance to put his silky running game into action as the ball can be regularly seen to make it out past 12 without being put to the boot.
Of note, Ben Youngs has entered some good form too as he hunts down Jason Leonard’s men’s cap record. He sits on 112 England caps to date.
(2) Potential issues
England will of course go into this 2022 Six Nations with a few questions around certain elements of the side. Most notably those caused by the absence of Owen Farrell. The Saracen leader had surgery and will miss the tournament altogether, so the captaincy and the number 12 shirt are now wide open. Courtney Lawes did such an admirable job in the Autumn; as did Genge in the Summer but, the hesitancy that Jones is taking in announcing his skipper – and the head knock suffered by Lawes – could mean a new leader for this team.
Players in contention for the armband include Maro Itoje and Tom Curry, or potentially the experienced Ben Youngs.
Furthermore, Farrell’s injury once again denies England to see how he and Smith can work in combination. The addition of Tuilagi’s current injury means, at least for the Scotland match, fans are unsure who will line up at the inside centre position. Will Jones move Slade in and put Marchant at 13? Or could Atkinson be that gain line breaker at 12?
That information will be revealed Friday, with Nowell and Northmore other potential candidates to play after both having incredible domestic seasons so far. A new name could also see a place on the bench; Ollie Hassell-Collins. Will Jones stick with senior men across the board or choose to inject an unknown factor, to make Gregor Townsend and the Scotland players ‘keep on guessing’ before the match begins Saturday afternoon.
Fans in the Stadium a boost for 2022 Six Nations tournament
Finally, England does go into this tournament with just two home games. Maybe a disadvantage, but the fact that fans will be present once again will mean so much to the players. This year will once again provide the opportunity to get behind your team in person.
Scotland v England – Round One, 2022 Six Nations. Murrayfield, Edinburgh
“Main photo credit”
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