As you can see, and as is so often the case with the Six Nations (particularly in odd years when England play all the blue teams at home) England are expected to win comfortably all of their home games but lose their two away games. By chance, this neatly ties in with the current world rankings – England are below Ireland and Wales and above France, Italy and Scotland.
If these results and all of the others we have predicted come to pass, the table will look like this come 16 March:
Third place will be an improvement on their all-time low position of fifth last year. However, it will still be their worst performance (barring last year’s) since 2010. More importantly, it will not send out a strong message that England are title contenders for this Autumn’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Obviously win all their games.
However, with bookies’ odds of 11/1, it doesn’t look as England will win the Grand Slam this year. Accordingly, they need to focus on a couple of key games, whilst also hoping that certain other results go their way.
Given Ireland’s form in 2018, England are not expected to win this one. Indeed the Algorithm only gives them a 32% chance. However, this is almost identical to the chance England were given against New Zealand in November, so perhaps there is more hope than initially appears.
Accordingly, England need to focus on bonus points here. Primarily either:
These points could be significant in deciding the outcome of the tournament, if, as England will be hoping, the 2019 Six Nations is not decided by a Grand Slam.
Wales are justifiably favourites for this game. They are third in the World Rankings and have won their last nine games. They beat South Africa and Australia in the Autumn, and are seeming to shake their moniker of perennial underachievers. However the Algorithm shows that England do have a very good chance of sneaking this one, with Wales only given a 50.6% chance of victory.
Indeed, if we are looking at Six Nations form alone, England would likely be penned as favourites. They have beaten Wales in the last five Six Nations clashes, including the last two in Cardiff.
This game will almost certainly be one of the tournament-defining fixtures. If Wales win, it will potentially set them up for a Six Nations Grand Slam decider at home against the Irish. And if England win, they will keep their title hopes alive, given that Ireland are by no means guaranteed to win away in Cardiff.
If the above plan comes good for England, we could be in for another enthralling Six Nations finish. The table could look something like this:
In this scenario, all of Ireland, England and Wales will have a very achievable shot at the title. Victory might not be decided until the 80th minute of the England v Scotland game, the third game of Super Saturday. A mouth-watering prospect.
In this situation England would need to beat Scotland with a bonus point. Wales would also have to beat Ireland without getting a bonus point and deny Ireland a bonus point. Easy. But we’ll cross this bridge in more detail if it does come to pass. Don’t worry.
Particularly in a World Cup year, all of the teams will have so much more to play for than normal. Hopefully this year, there will be very few dead rubbers. Scotland’s form at times over the last three years has been exceptional. France too, generally rise to the occasion of the World Cup. Is it too much to hope that Italy can perform? Probably …
As far as England are concerned, a successful tournament would probably mean either coming in the top two. Coming third might be acceptable, as long as they put in some good performances against Ireland and Wales. However, they must comprehensively win their home fixtures.
Possibly more important to England will be managing squads and injury lists. Injuries have plagued some very important players over the past few years. Eddie Jones would likely prefer a weaker Six Nations performance if it allowed more of his squad available to him in August.
The influence of England’s big ball-carriers – the Vunipolas, Sinckler and Lawes – has been manifestly at the forefront of England’s game plan when they have been winning games. They will want to keep these players fit and healthy for Japan.
England will also be looking to develop consistency in certain key combinations, namely the backrow and the centres. Form and injuries have hampered Eddie Jones from allowing these combinations to settle. This has plainly affected their strength in two key areas: the breakdown and in defence.
England will need to decide whether they favour a pure power game in the centres, Te’o and Tuilagi for example, or whether they will combine one of these two with Henry Slade. Slade, the self-described “small” centre (just 6’4” and 15 stone), is generally better at releasing the outside backs.
The loss of Underhill will also inhibit England’s consistency in the backrow. However, it will give Tom Curry a chance to show how good he can be. Assuming Billy Vunipola can stay fit, the big question for Eddie Jones will be who plays on the blindside. Both Brad Shields and Mark Wilson performed well in the Autumn and are in contention.
England have a great chance this Six Nations, both in terms of the tournament itself and in terms of developing for the World Cup. Fitness and consistency of selection are likely to be important factors that might be overlooked in the face of sheer results.
In order to win, England will need to target winning bonus points where they can. But also, crucially, try and turn over Wales in Cardiff.