The 2020 Six Nations Championship gets underway on Saturday 1st February and fans are already gearing up to the opening round of fixtures. It’s become even more exciting now that coaches are announcing their squads for the tournament. The Guinness Six Nations betting odds continue to highlight England as the favourite for success, despite not winning the Championship since 2017. Victory for the Red Roses this year would mark a hat-trick of wins in the competition for head coach Eddie Jones and would go some way in compensating for the disappointing defeat in the Rugby World Cup Final last year.
Earlier this week, Jones announced his 34-man squad. 22 members of the squad featured at the World Cup, while an additional 10 who played in Japan miss out – mostly through injury. The latest casualties to be omitted from the squad are Saracens number 8 Billy Vunipola, who broke his arm in the opening minutes of last weekend’s Champions Cup win over Racing 92, and Exeter Chiefs’ Jack Nowell. The wing had been playing through an ankle injury which he sustained at the World Cup and despite featuring in the weekend’s Champions Cup win over La Rochelle, has decided that surgery is the best option, thus ruling himself out of contention. While there is plenty of cover and competition for places in Nowell’s position, Jones has decided not to bring in a significant replacement for Vunipola.
Away from the injured players, one notable absentee is Dan Cole, who at the age of 32 may well have come to the end of his international career. After having a torrid time in the final against the Springboks, the Leicester Tigers prop looks to have paid the price for a poor campaign in the autumn.
After the World Cup exit, Jones vowed to make changes, stating: “So this team is finished now. There will be a new team made. We’ll make a new team for the Six Nations and that new team for the Six Nations will be the basis of going to the next World Cup.”
And it appears he is a man of his word, bringing in eight new recruits. Three Northampton Saints players receive their first senior call-ups: lock Alex Moon, centre Fraser Dingwall and full-back George Furbank; alongside prop Will Stuart (Bath) and fly-half Jacob Umaga (Wasps). Three other players have had previous involvement in the squad, but remain uncapped: hooker Tom Dunn, flanker Ben Earl and wing Ollie Thorley. Also called up as apprentices are Saints scrum-half Alex Mitchell, who is returning from injury, and Josh Hodge – full-back at Newcastle Falcons. The squad will meet on Wednesday, before travelling to Portugal on Thursday for their warm-weather camp, ahead of their first match in Paris on Sunday 2nd February.
On his squad selection, Jones said: “We wanted to bring some young players in because we need to keep building our depth so for those new players it is an exciting opportunity for them.”
England begins their charge for the Championship against a France side who have also rung the changes. Following their successful World Cup campaign, France parted with their head coach Jacques Brunel, replacing him with Fabien Galthié. Galthié has since announced his 42-man squad, promoting Charles Ollivonto captain, following the retirement of GuilhemGuirado. The Frenchman has focused on youth when assembling his first squad, including 19 uncapped players, with just one player over the age of 30, bringing the average age of the squad down to 24.
In a similar position is Ireland, who were hammered at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup and are now calling upon new head coach Andy Farrell to bring the next generation forward. Fly-half Johnny Sexton has the unadmirable task of taking over from former captain Rory Best, who retired at the end of the World Cup in Japan.
Four of the six competing teams have changed their head coach since the last major international tournament and these could prove pivotal in whether they will sink or swim on the big stage this time around. In Jones, England has an experienced and successful coach and after playing so well for the majority of the World Cup, it’s a great opportunity to build on that and right their wrongs, by reversing their most recent disappointing performance.