England the team to beat as Lions loom over Six Nations
LONDON, JAN 28, (DNA) – England will look to become only the sixth team to win back-to-back Grand Slams in what is now the Six Nations when this season’s Championship gets underway next weekend.
Their opening match against France at Twickenham on February 4 will see England bidding to extend their 14-match winning streak, with 13 of those victories under coach Eddie Jones since the Australian’s appointment following a first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup.
Another perfect Six Nations season would see England surpass world champions New Zealand’s record of 18 successive top-tier Test wins.
New Zealand will also provide a target of a different sort as it is the destination for the British and Irish Lions tour in June, with the combined side seeking just a second series win over the All Blacks to follow their celebrated 1971 triumph.
“It’s one of the greatest things in world rugby, a Lions tour,” said Jones. “It’s something we’ve got to hold dear.
“But the players have got to understand it’s a consequence of playing well for England. If they play well for England they’re going to get selected for the Lions.”
With England missing former captain Chris Robshaw and powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi for the whole of the Six Nations, while nursing injury doubts over back-rows Billy Vunipola and James Haskell, as well as wing Anthony Watson, their strength in depth will be tested.
Indeed predictions of a winner take-all Grand Slam decider between England and Ireland could well have fallen flat by the time the teams meet in Dublin in the final round of the Six Nations on March 18.
Ireland deserve their billing as second favourites, however, after ending New Zealand’s record-breaking run with a stunning maiden win over the All Blacks in Chicago in November that also bolstered the Lions’ self-belief.=DNA
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