Six Nations 2019: England battle fatigue ahead of gruelling year
Head coach Eddie Jones prepares to name his championship squad
When England head coach Eddie Jones announces his squad for the Six Nations tomorrow he will pick 34 names. Among those already ruled out are Sam Underhill and Anthony Watson.
But there is some good news. BBC Sport says that British and Irish Lions centre Jonathan Joseph is set to make a return for Bath after nine months out of action with an ankle injury.
England will have to hit the ground running in this season’s Six Nations with a trip to Dublin on 2 February to face the reigning grand slam champions.
Ireland are the form team in world rugby, having beaten the mighty All Blacks in November. They are strong favourites to start their title defence with a win.
England have won only once in Dublin in the last 15 years of the Six Nations. They were well beaten at Twickenham when the two countries clashed in March.
On the plus side for England, the weight of expectation sits on the shoulders of the men in green, a remarkable testament to how Irish rugby has been transformed this century.
Less than 20 years ago the viability of Ireland’s continued participation in the Six Nations was being discussed after a succession of thrashings at the hands of England: 46-6 in Dublin in 1997, 35-17 the following year, 50-18 in 2000, 45-11 in 2002 and a 42-6 drubbing in Dublin in 2003.
There are several reasons behind the regeneration of Irish rugby, but key was the decision a decade ago to implement a player management system that ensured the top players one month’s holiday each year, an eight-week pre-season on their return and a maximum of 25 games every season.
No other country in the Six Nations looks after its players as well as Ireland. This is in stark contrast to England, where there are no central contracts between clubs and the RFU.
Last season, for example, when Ireland beat England to win the grand slam, their fly-half, Jonathan Sexton had played 435 minutes for Leinster. His opposite number, Owen Farrell, had played 1,084 minutes for Saracens.
Say a little prayer
Consequently, as The Guardian reported on Monday, Eddie Jones faces “a struggle to keep his England squad fresh”.
Most of them are fighting on two fronts with their clubs – in the ultra competitive Premiership and in the European Champions Cup.
The group stage of that tournament concludes this weekend. Jones will be praying his players come through unscathed and avoid injuries like the one sustained by England No.8 Mark Wilson. Last weekend he damaged his shoulder playing for Newcastle against Montpellier. He faces a race against time to be fit for the start of the Six Nations.
Gloucester’s head coach Johan Ackermann, a former South African international, expressed his sympathy for Jones.
“He must flinch every time the English teams play because he knows his England side are going to have players who have been through tough Premiership games and then another tough European block,” said Ackermann.
“Irish sides had the luxury to rest players and get players fresh, and obviously there are games they can afford to do that in, in their league.”
If Jones is in need of a morale boost he could do worse than look at the outcome of the 2011 and 2015 Six Nations. England won the former and finished second to Ireland four years ago, winning four of their five matches.
They duly went off to the World Cup in buoyant mood only to collapse in spectacular fashion in both tournaments. The Six Nations is important but it won’t be the end of the world if a tired England lose a couple of matches. What matters is arriving in Japan in September after a summer spent recharging the batteries.
2019 Six Nations fixtures and TV guide
- 1 February: France vs. Wales (8pm, live on BBC)
- 2 February: Scotland vs. Italy (2.15pm, live on BBC); Ireland vs. England (4.45pm, live on ITV)
- 9 February: Scotland vs. Ireland (2.15pm, live on BBC); Italy vs. Wales (4.45pm, live on ITV)
- 10 February: England vs. France (3pm, live on ITV)
- 23 February: France vs. Scotland (2.15pm, live on BBC); Wales vs. England (4.45pm, live on BBC)
- 24 February: Italy vs. Ireland (3pm, live on ITV)
- 9 March: Scotland vs. Wales (2.15pm, live on BBC); England vs. Italy (3pm, live on ITV)
- 10 March: Ireland vs. France (4.45pm, live on ITV)
- 16 March: Italy vs. France (12.30pm, live on ITV); Wales vs. Ireland (2.45pm, live on BBC)
- 17 March: England vs. Scotland (5pm, live on BBC)