England Six Nations Team Preview
Looking Back at 2022
Since Italy joined the Championship in 2000, England have won the Guinness Six Nations a record seven times. Three of those triumphs came in the first four editions and three have come in the last seven, with a lean spell of just one title in the 12 years between 2004 and 2015. But has their dominance waned and their aura of strength diminished?
2021 saw Eddie Jones’ side record their joint-lowest finishing position in the Six Nations Championship – a lowly fifth (also 2018), and 2022 was not much better. Although they finished in third spot in 2022, they recorded the same number of wins (two) and tournament points (10) as the previous year, and notched up their lowest try (eight) and points (101) tallies since 2013 (5, 94).
Eventually this loss of form was the undoing of Jones and heading into the 2023 Six Nations England have a new coaching in position with former England captain, Steve Borthwick, at the helm as head coach ahead of this championship and the upcoming 2023 Rugby World Cup.
England’s style of play may not change overnight, especially as Jones was such a big influence on Borthwick’s coaching development. There will undoubtedly be some similar tactical DNA woven into the former Leicester Tigers’ coach’s approach, and that paired with a pretty similar squad selection, don’t expect too many surprises at Twickenham this weekend.
In 2022 England looked to impose their strong ball-carrying prowess on their opposition. They recorded the best dominant carry rate (27%) of any Tier 1 nation, as well as the third best gainline success rate (56%) and second best rate (53%) for committing two or more tacklers with their carries. This confidence though may have caused them trouble in defence, only Japan (55%) opted to carry the ball out of their own 22 more often than England (53%), and with just the seventh best 22 exit success rate, it may not be the most prudent option of releasing pressure.
In fact, across a lot our advanced metrics, England most closely followed the same playing styles of Japan. Only Japan (14%) and Scotland (10.4%) moved the ball wide more often (10.1%) than England in 2022, whilst only Japan (47%) played it wider than first receiver more often (31%) or went open more often (94% vs. 92%).
Strengths and Weaknesses
Some of the playing styles we’ve highlighted above could give a guide to where the England team struggled in 2022. Although on the face of it their ball carrying was a strength, were they too predictable? The tendency to go open and go wide may be a sign of Marcus Smith wanting to get his hands on the ball and pull the strings in the back field, maybe something he has had more success with for Harlequins, but given the time to develop on the Test stage, it could bring long term rewards for England.
One area of concern was their maul in 2022. Only one try originated from a maul in 2022 for Eddie Jones’ men, from 74 mauls which they put in motion, the worst rate of any side. Usually a strong weapon for any Test nation, Borthwick will no doubt look to reinstate this tactic in 2023.
Freddie Steward has made himself one of the first names on the team sheet, having burst onto the international scene in the last 18 months. In fact since his debut in July 2021, he’s notched up more minutes on the pitch for England than any other player (1,360) and was one of just three England players to play every minute of the 2022 Six Nations campaign alongside Henry Slade and Maro Itoje.
His presence under kicks is a big strength. In 2022 he claimed nine attacking kicks, two more than any other international player (Emiliano Boffelli) and more than twice as many as any player from one of the Six Nations sides. In fact as a team, in 2022 England retained 15% of their attacking kicks, only South Africa (17%) and New Zealand (16%) bettered this rate.
There’s plenty of other talent across the squad, with some uncapped potential no doubt eager to impress. Cadan Murley and Ollie Hassell-Collins are definitely two that have lit up the Premiership and will be ones to keep an eye out for. Since the start of the 2020-21 season, the top five Premiership try scorers all feature in the squad Borthwick announced initially (Malins 25, Murley 23, McGuigan 22, Hassell-Collins 19, Freeman 19). Meanwhile, Hassell-Collins is the only player to beat 100+ defenders in that time (103) and Murley has made the most breaks (35) of any player. There’s no doubt the squad has the attacking potential to beat all-comers, but can they structure the game for a full 80 minutes to beat the favourites France and Ireland. Time will tell.
England’s Six Nations 2023 Fixtures:
4 February: England v Scotland, Twickenham
12 February: England v Italy, Twickenham
25 February: Wales v England, Principality Stadium
11 March: England v France, Twickenham
18 March: Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium
England Six Nations 2023 Squad (as of 16 Jan):
Forwards: Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Joe Heyes, Jonny Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, George McGuigan, Bevan Rodd, Sam Simmonds, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis.
Backs: Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Dan Kelly, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Alex Mitchell, Cadan Murley, Henry Slade, Fin Smith, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Jack van Poortvliet, Ben Youngs.
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