Six Nations 2019 Championship in focus: England
England kick off their 2019 Six Nations campaign away to Ireland on Saturday
By Simon Mail
Last Updated: 30/01/19 2:13pm
England endured a year to forget in last season's Six Nations and the pressure will be on Eddie Jones' side to reclaim the title with the World Cup on the horizon.
Jones could do no wrong after winning the championship in his first two years in charge, but England suffered a harsh dose of reality last season after losing three matches to finish fifth in the tournament.
Some encouraging performances during the autumn internationals offer optimism heading into this season but it does not get much tougher than an opening match in Dublin against champions Ireland.
If England can pull off a victory at Aviva Stadium, it will set them up for another title but a heavy defeat could shatter confidence with a difficult trip to Wales still to come in the third round of fixtures.
- Six Nations since 2000: Six-time winners (2000, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017)
- Overall: 28 titles outright (1883, 1884, 1892, 1910, 1913, 1914, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1937, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1980, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017)
- Ireland - Aviva Stadium - Saturday, February 2 - 4.45pm (GMT)
- France - Twickenham - Sunday, February 10 - 3pm (GMT)
- Wales - Principality Stadium - Saturday, February 23 - 4.45pm (GMT)
- Italy - Twickenham - Saturday, March 9 - 4.45pm (GMT)
- Scotland - Twickenham - Saturday, Match 16 - 5pm (GMT)
England came into the competition with extremely high expectations after winning the tournament in the previous two years but their campaign unravelled badly.
After a routine opening win in Italy and a tight home victory over Wales, England lost their final three matches. The defending champions suffered a 25-13 defeat in Scotland as they lost the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 2008.
Their title hopes were sunk in Paris after a 22-16 defeat to France and England faced the ignominy of watching Ireland win the Grand Slam after their 24-15 victory at Twickenham as they finished fifth in the table.
It was a major fall from grace for England and the first time Jones came under pressure following a dominant first two years in charge, which saw them win 18 consecutive matches.
England have unearthed several exciting talents over the last year with the performances of Kyle Sinckler during the autumn internationals among the highlights. The Harlequins prop dominated in the scrum during England's win over Australia and provided a threat with the ball in hand.
In the backline, Jonny May, who scored four tries in last year's competition, has cemented his reputation as a potent finisher and his relentless work rate and turn of pace is a huge threat for England.
Injuries have still not been kind to England. The squad was decimated during the autumn internationals and there are still significant absentees heading into the Six Nations.
Experienced hooker Dylan Hartley is a doubt for the tournament with a knee injury while superb Bath flanker Sam Underhill will miss the competition with an ankle injury.
With the months ticking down until this year's World Cup, Jones is running out of time to pick his best team and the injuries are certainly not aiding his planning.
England will want to bed down their first choice side well before their opening fixture against Tonga in September but the latest casualties ahead of the Six Nations will be a source of frustration.
England are no longer the team to beat with Ireland second in the world rankings. Going back 12 months, Jones' side were the favourites after back-to-back titles but their aura has certainly been dented by a disappointing 2018.
Perhaps slightly lower expectations, particularly with such a difficult start in Ireland, may actually suit England but this is the first time in several years when the side are not considered the most likely winners.
Jones has always said the focus is on peaking for the World Cup and insists their dip last season is a valuable part of the side's development.
Owen Farrell. The importance of the Saracens fly-half cannot be overstated and he will have a major role if England are to achieve success in the Six Nations and at the World Cup in Japan.
It is not only the co-captain's exceptional kicking game and the attacking ability he offers but also his leadership which is so crucial to England. Farrell's commitment and physicality is a key aspect of Jones' side and he has become indispensable.
The decision to move him from inside-centre to fly-half towards the end of last year has proved a shrewd choice and has only reaffirmed the importance of Farrell for England.
England's 35-man squad:
Forwards (20): Jack Clifford, Dan Cole, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Nathan Hughes, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Ben Moon, Brad Shields, Kyle Sinckler, Jack Singleton, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams, Mark Wilson.
Backs (15): Chris Ashton, Mike Brown, Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, Ollie Devoto, Owen Farrell (c), George Ford, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Dan Robson, Henry Slade, Ben Te'o, Ollie Thorley, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs.