England are favourites going into the Six Nations, having won it just four months ago after the tournament was postponed due to COVID-19 and completed in late October.
Eddie Jones’ side will be coming off the back of a hugely successful end to 2020, adding the Autumn Nations Cup to their third Six Nations trophy under the Australian’s stewardship.
England begin their title defence with two home games played behind closed doors, the first being against Scotland on Saturday at Twickenham.
They will look to stamp their authority in what is the 150th anniversary of the fixture and expected to be a hard-fought, bitty affair.
The side lost their opening Six Nations fixture in February last year against France 24-17 but have remained unbeaten ever since with eight wins in a row.
With their last result being a 22-19 extra-time win over France in the Nations Cup final, England’s momentum and excellent overall form mean they are expected to retain the prestigious title.
England won last year’s tournament using a pragmatism-over-attractiveness approach as they narrowly edged France on points difference.
However, Jones recently stated: “Our goal is to play better rugby. If we can win by running and passing and being attractive, then we want to do that.”
Not having the famous Twickenham atmosphere to provide a home advantage will undoubtedly be a strange sensation for players and fans in what is a different tournament to any other in its long history.
England’s 28-man squad will prepare under strict coronavirus protocols at a hotel in Teddington and with players unable to socialise or mix indoors, mental resilience is crucial if they are to succeed again.
Second rower and Saracens sensation Maro Itoje will be key for England, with the player’s ability and leadership as a lock being reminiscent of legendary captain Martin Johnson.
Itoje at 6’5 is a colossus and regarded as one of the greatest players in the world as he looks to secure his fourth Six Nations trophy.
Fellow Saracen and no.8 Billy Vunipola is also one to watch despite having played just once since early December.
Vunipola’s explosive strength and ball-handling ability mean he is capable of single-handedly turning the tide in games.
Call-ups to the squad are exciting Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall and Wasps centre Paolo Odogwu who both provide an attacking edge aged just 23.
Odogwu in particular impressed in the Premiership this season, leading the league in number of metres gained (367m), clean breaks (12) and coming second in overall try count (five).
England have a blend of exciting personnel and momentum that makes them favourites to go all the way in the Six Nations, though they will have to overcome new physical and mental obstacles before repeating their success.
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