Harlequins wing Nathan Earle has tipped England to overcome their injury concerns and triumph at the Six Nations.
The tournament kicks off on Friday with France hosting Wales, before Eddie Jones’ side take on defending champions and favourites Ireland on Saturday.
Experienced campaigner Chris Robshaw and co-captain Dylan Hartley are out, while there is also a doubt over the other co-captain Owen Farrell, but Earle believes England’s squad depth is good enough for them to challenge.
He said: “I don’t think the injuries will have a massive impact.
“You saw in the Autumn people like Mark Wilson come through and do phenomenally well. Jamie George is doing brilliantly at hooker and with Luke Cowan-Dickie coming in now, there is great strength in depth.
“It’s an embarrassment of riches for Eddie and everyone can do a phenomenal job if given the opportunity.”
Last year, England went into the Six Nations as two-time defending champions, but three straight defeats saw them finish fifth.
And Earle believes that disappointment will add extra motivation this year.
He said: “The guys going into last year’s tournament went in as favourites and then disappointed themselves as much as they did.
“If that’s not motivation enough, then I don’t know why you’d be playing the sport.”
Earle was part of England’s tour to South Africa in 2018 as well as being in the squad for the Autumn internationals, but despite continued good form for Quins, where he has scored eight tries in 16 matches, he was overlooked along with teammate Danny Care.
Despite the disappointment, he backed Jones’ judgement and believes he has some of the best players in the world at his disposal.
“Eddie’s chosen the squad he thinks is best to do the job and if me and Danny don’t fit the picture, then we’ve got to find a way to get back in,” said the 24-year-old.
“Billy Vunipola is back fit and Maro Itoje’s come back at the right time to get involved so in the pack you’ve got a few of the best players in the world and arguably one of the best fly-halves in the world if he is fit in Farrell.
“Either way, Eddie has got an incredibly strong squad.”
And it is that strong squad that makes Earle believe England can topple Ireland and the rest.
“Ireland are probably and rightly judged as the best team in the world at the moment,” he said.
“But Wales have gone about their business quietly and have done phenomenally well and Scotland as well.
“Finn Russell is playing incredibly well at Racing and just that back line that Scotland have is so dangerous.
“So I don’t think you can write any team off.
“But I’m going to say England will win it, it will be tight but I think England will do everything they can to do it.”
Having been thought of as potential strugglers at the start of the season, Harlequins have surpassed expectations and sit third in the Premiership.
“Personally I’m loving being at Harlequins and playing a lot,” he said.
“On the whole, obviously we’ve outdone everyone’s expectations.
“People were earmarking us to potentially be in a relegation battle at the bottom of the pile but I feel like we’ve got the last laugh.
“I think it’s massive that Paul Gustard has trust in the youth of his squad because you are only as good as your worst player really,” he added.
“It shows the young players there is a pathway into the team and that they have got a coach that is willing to take risks on them.”
Over the past few weeks, RFU reports showed an increase in the length of absence caused by concussion injuries and there were trials to lower tackle heights.
But Earle said he would be disappointed if World Rugby made those changes.
“Obviously it’s a harsh reality of the sport but I don’t think there’s a lot you can do about it,” he said.
“You’re going to hit your head and you’re going to get hurt and if you’re not prepared to kind of deal with those consequences then obviously you’re not in the right sport.”
Earle was speaking at the launch of The Last Drop Out competition, in association with Greene King, at The George in Twickenham.
The competition sees the drinker whose pint of Greene King IPA is being pulled when the barrel runs out win a prize, ranging from a free pint to tickets to this summer’s World Cup in Japan.
The competition runs in participating pubs until March 31.
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