Last year was arguably one of the most turbulent and testing in England’s recent history. Having won the Guinness Men’s Six Nations back in 2020, the last three editions have seen them pick up just two victories in each campaign, with five of those six wins coming against either Wales or Italy.

After more disappointment in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, it looked like head coach Steve Borthwick’s reign could be over before it started if a disappointing World Cup followed. Although naysayers will suggest they had an easy run of fixtures, England did still deliver an impressive Rugby World Cup campaign in France. The only loss in their tournament came by a single point against eventual winners South Africa.

All that said, the future remains unclear. A high turnover of players and lack of consistent selection leaves their best XV unpredictable. What will be key for Borthwick in this next World Cup cycle is finding a winning combination between the high-quality group of players he has available to him and a game plan that suits their skill sets.

Playing Style

England’s gameplan is potentially the hardest to predict of any side in this year’s Six Nations. Kicking was obviously a key theme to their style of play in 2023, but it wasn’t hugely successful. Borthwick’s side made the most kicks in play (34) and gained the most kicking metres (1,057m) per game of any side in the 2023 Championship, but their retention rate from these kicks was the lowest of any side. Was the territorial gain worth the loss of possession?

Good discipline has become a feature of England’s play in recent years; something that’s not always been the case. Red cards are still a problem though, so keeping 15 men on the pitch will be a key factor in being able to stick to a playing style.

Reverting to a drop-goal tactic, as they did in the Rugby World Cup against Argentina, won’t be their Plan A you’d imagine…

Strengths and Weaknesses

The set-piece is something most teams pride themselves on and for good reason: it’s one of the core principles of success at all levels of the game. If you can’t win the restarts from a lineout or scrum then you’re on the back foot straight away. For England, this is one area of the game where they are well-drilled and reliable.

At the 2023 Six Nations, they had the best success rate in both these facets of the game, winning the lineout 92% of the time and scrum 96%. They also mauled well, averaging the most maul metres per game (15) and metres per maul (2.8).

You’d have thought that all of that would’ve given them the perfect platform for attack, but that’s where the model broke down last year.

In 2023 they ranked last or second last for metres gained, breaks, defenders beaten, tackle evasion, gainline success and 22 entries. England simply didn’t create enough attacking opportunities, despite the solid platform their forwards provided them.

The poorest goal-kicking success rate (62%), the highest turnover count (15 per game) and the worst tackle success rate (83%) all hampered their momentum. The foundations are there, and that is important, but there is a lot to work on.

Hopefully getting the right players in the right positions, and doing what they do best week-in, week-out will iron out some of those issues in 2024.

Star Players

2023 was a bit of a make-or-break year for Ben Earl and he definitely came out of it in credit. A phenomenal World Cup campaign pushed him from a ‘maybe’ to one of the first names on the team sheet.

Only Argentina’s Marco Kremer (151) made more tackles and carries combined than Earl (144) in the tournament, while the Sarries back-row forward ranked first for breaks (7), second for defenders beaten (24) and metres (485) among forwards in the tournament. His impact can’t be undervalued as England look to get going forward.

Ben Earl - Rugby World Cup

Marcus Smith tearing up defences and leaving a trail of defenders in his wake is a common sight in the Premiership. So far though, we’ve only seen glimpses of that brilliance when he swaps his quarters for the white of England.

Of the 954 players to face 25+ tackles across major domestic club competitions in Europe this season, Smith has the best tackle evasion rate, dodging an amazing 76% of opposition tackles.

All signs point to him being the key that can unlock England’s attack. Will a late injury blow deny the fans and coaches the chance to see Smith hit full flight though? It may be his namesake, Fin Smith who instead gets the chance to steal a march on his rivals with some game time in the 2024 Championship.

England Six Nations 2024 Fixtures:

3 February: Italy v England – Stadio Olimpico, Rome

10 February: England v Wales – Twickenham Stadium, London

24 February: Scotland v England – Scottish Gas Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh

9 March: England v Ireland – Twickenham Stadium, London

16 March: France v England – Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

England Six Nations Squad (as of 30 January):


Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, 7 caps)
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 18 caps)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 107 caps)
Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, 3 caps)
Chandler Cunningham-South (Harlequins, uncapped)
Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, 5 caps)
Theo Dan (Saracens, 7 caps)
Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 15 caps)
Ben Earl (Saracens, 25 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 58 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 85 caps) – captain
Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 7 caps)
Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 11 caps)
Maro Itoje (Saracens, 76 caps)
Joe Marler (Harlequins, 88 caps)
Beno Obano (Bath Rugby, 3 caps)
Tom Pearson (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)
Ethan Roots (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 33 caps)
Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 30 caps)


Danny Care (Harlequins, 96 caps)
Elliot Daly (Saracens, 64 caps)
Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
George Ford (Sale Sharks, 91 caps)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 3 caps)
George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 6 caps)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 11 caps)
Will Muir (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
Max Ojomoh (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 57 caps)
Fin Smith (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 30 caps)
Ben Spencer (Bath Rugby, 4 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 31 caps)

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