The Six Nations Championship 2016 begins next month, and all eyes are on Eddie Jones. The new England coach will take charge of the team for the first time since replacing Stuart Lancaster, who resigned following England's disappointing run at the 2015 World Cup. Ahead of Jones’ announcement of his 33-man Elite Player Squad, here's a preview of the opening Calcutta Cup match against Scotland, taking place on 6th February.
As expected with a new coach, there is much speculation surrounding the team selection. The RFU's elite player squad agreement means that Jones can only drop a maximum of 11 players from Lancaster's World Cup squad. One of the first decisions the Australian has to make is who to select as captain, and it looks like Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley may be poised to replace Chris Robshaw.
Three of the second rows from the World Cup – Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling and George Kruis – are fighting fit. However, Dave Attwood and Ed Slater are both injured this year and there’s a question mark around Joe Launchbury, so it’s still not clear who will start on February 6th.
One player who's been talked about a lot in the run-up to the tournament is Maro Itoje, who can play at either lock or flanker. The 21-year-old Saracens star was left out of the final World Cup squad, but has performed excellently for his club ever since, winning the Aviva Premiership Player of the Month award in December. It will be interesting to see if, and where, he gets his debut.
Now that Chris Robshaw is playing on the blindside, the number 7 jersey is up for grabs, with several candidates vying for selection. James Haskell, Jack Clifford, Matt Kvesic, Will Fraser and Brendan O'Connor are all options for the new coach to consider on the openside. Sam Burgess' return to rugby league means that there is also a vacancy for a centre. With Henry Slade injured, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Sam Hill are the options for the number 12 shirt, while Jonathan Joseph and Elliot Daly appear to be battling it out for number 13.
As for Scotland, there are concerns over the fitness of young centre Mark Bennett, who injured his shoulder while playing for the Glasgow Warriors. The 22-year-old is a key member of Vern Cotter's team and scored two tries in last year's tournament, so fingers will be crossed that Bennett recovers in time. Other injury-related concerns for Cotter include Grant Gilchrist, Henry Pyrgos, Alex Dunbar and Rob Harley, who are all struggling to be fit for the tournament. Flanker has been a problem position for the Scots team for a while, and the Kiwi coach has John Hardie, Blair Cowan, Chris Fusaro and John Barclay to choose from.
England’s performance at the World Cup was hugely disappointing, with the team going out in the group stages on home soil. However, with a new coach comes a clean slate, and the team should be rejuvenated under Eddie Jones’ direction. England finished second in last year’s tournament, and despite their poor show at the World Cup, they are favourites to win the Six Nations, with most bookies putting them at 7/4.
Scotland’s 2015 was characterised by signs of promise being undermined by a defensive frailty against the bigger nations. They were impressive at the World Cup, and were extremely unlucky to lose to Australia in the quarter-finals after referee Craig Joubert awarded the Wallabies a last-minute penalty. The Scots haven't won the tournament since it became the Six Nations in 2000, and are 16/1 to win it this year with Coral Sports.
England have won the last six matches against their old rival, with Scotland not winning since the 2008 Six Nations. Eddie Jones’ men are best priced at 4/9 with William Hill Sports, while the Scots are 21/10 with Betfred Sports. Meanwhile, your best odds for a draw are 22/1 with bet365 Sports.