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Six Nations: England savouring renewed title ambitions

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It’s amazing isn’t it, how predictions often fall flat on their faces? England, alongside neighbours Wales, were billed as the potential flops at the Rugby World Cup last year in France.

All eyes were on Les Bleus and Ireland to make the case for the northern hemisphere against the might of the south.

But Wales fell to Argentina, Ireland were toppled by eventual finalists New Zealand in the quarter-finals and, after England had beaten Fiji, France lost to the ultimate champions South Africa.

Battered and bruised from a poor 2023 Six Nations and summer warm-up schedule, in the aftermath of a turbulent period with Eddie Jones, England found a way to go further than any other European side at the World Cup.

Time to compete

But this isn’t a settled England, neither is it one expected to finish above the likes of Ireland and France this time.

First, captain Owen Farrell withdrew from international duty citing his mental health before signing a bumper contract in France which ruled him ineligible for his country. 

Then injuries hit, with the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Jonny Hill and Ollie Lawrence ruled out of the squad to face Italy this weekend.

But this, finally it seems, is a Steve Borthwick squad; a squad he owns and is truly responsible for given the situation he inherited in late 2022.

“We want to make sure that this England team competes in every single one of these games, which is not something you can say about the team over recent years,” head coach Borthwick says.

“The expectations are going to be a lot higher than what the team has achieved, quite rightly, and the team’s really well aware that we haven’t performed in the Six Nations for a period of time.

“Ireland and France have been the dominant teams and everyone is trying to compete with those two. For us, we start in Rome, and what has often happened is a lot is talked about England prior to the tournament and we have not then achieved it within the tournament.

“Our intent is to get ourselves focused, running the way we want to, which again hasn’t happened in recent years. So this tournament needs to be a different tournament for England, a different mindset, a different way of approaching the tournament.”

England mindset

England finished in lowly fourth position last year, winning just two matches, while a third-place finish a year prior and a fifth-place finish in 2021 represented a disappointing return for Jones and now Borthwick since a title-winning effort in 2020.

But this is an England squad which looks altered; the wider training camps have seen a mass inclusion of players from nine of the 10 English top-flight teams. 

There have been call-ups for uncapped players from several clubs and in multiple positions while the likes of Danny Care and captain Jamie George add experience.

Borthwick though, now able to get his claws into a long-term England project, has a shift in mentality at the forefront of his plans.

“What you have seen is glimpses of a different mindset,” he adds. “I take nothing for granted. Every time you are preparing for a Test match you need to get that absolutely right – a mindset that every single moment in every single game counts and it is one you have got to fight for.

“That’s the nature of being an England player. If you look at every success England have had, they’ve had that mindset of sheer competitiveness in it, with good players, tactically aligned, fighting for everything. We’re clear about what we need to do.”

England training

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