Sadly for the northern hemisphere’s most devoted rugby-playing nations, their upstart cousins from south of the equator stole the show at the 2015 World Cup, on English soil no less.
Thankfully for all concerned, the Six Nations has arrived to begin erasing the painful memories.
Having exited their own World Cup at the group stage the England fallout was understandably nuclear, with head coach Stuart Lancaster and his backroom team playing the role of discarded neutrons in the ensuing explosion.
After much speculation Australian coach Eddie Jones was brought in as Lancaster’s replacement, with the RFU finally accepting that a non-Englishman may be the right man to restore the Red Rose to the pinnacle of world rugby, or at the very least, the northern hemisphere.
How Jones and his new-look squad fare is just one of several points of intrigue surrounding the opening round of 2016 Six Nations fixtures.
Jones under the microscope
With Chris Robshaw retaining his place in the side, despite being displaced as captain by Dylan Hartley, the former skipper’s contribution will be tightly scrutinised. Jones’ decision to accommodate Owen Farrell at number 12, with George Ford at fly-half, raises parallels with the old Gerrard/Lampard midfield debate that plagued Sven Goran-Eriksson as England’s first foreign football coach.
Can Scotland build on their accomplished World Cup?
Nobody expected the Scots to run Australia so agonisingly close, but that 35-34 loss to the Wallabies will count for little if England’s Calcutta Cup dominance goes unabated at Murrayfield. Nonetheless, on the evidence of the World Cup, Vern Cotter’s attractive side will entice plenty of punters at 2/1 to inflict Jones’ first defeat .
Will Ireland or Wales make huge opening statement?
Although the odds suggest England are favourites to win the competition, most discerning rugby folk would heartily disagree. Ireland are chasing an unprecedented hat-trick of Six Nations titles, but the absence of the feat to date and the feeling this ageing squad may have peaked, give rise to their 9/2 odds to secure it. Meanwhile, under Warren Gatland, Wales are chasing a fourth title and with a decent record over in Dublin, 11/10 on an away triumph appeals.
Are France ready to fulfil dark horse status?
Another country whose World Cup shortcomings gave rise to a change of management, Les Bleus surely cannot keep under performing. The disparity between the strength of the national game at club level, where Toulon have dominated in Europe, and country level is a difficult one to fathom. If it comes together for France, the rest ought to beware.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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