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England: Guinness Six Nations' Dark Horse After World Cup Surprise

England: Guinness Six Nations' Dark Horse After World Cup Surprise

England's rugby team, underdog for the Six Nations, defies odds with World Cup success. Watch for dark horse England in the upcoming competition.

Jan 25, 2024
England: Guinness Six Nations' Dark Horse After World Cup Surprise

Of all the teams heading into this year’s Six Nations, England has the most intriguing narrative circulating at the moment.

England got further than any other nation from the Northern Hemisphere in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, against all the odds, and yet there’s still no expectation they’ll win the Six Nations, as France and Ireland still are favored above them.

With the spotlight off and a quiet confidence brewing in the camp, England could be a dark horse for the upcoming competition.

Last Time Out

Last year’s Six Nations saw Steve Borthwick take the headset as England head coach for the first time. The new beginning brought some erratic results, from a squeaky win over Wales to a hammering by France.

The fourth-place finish at the end of the competition was a fair reflection of England’s run, but it seemed they were riding a landslide when struggling for form and discipline during Summer Series.

With the World Cup beckoning, Borthwick’s side looked ill-prepared, yet against all the odds, they managed to make a run to the semifinals, carried initially by the drop goals of George Ford and later by the leadership of Owen Farrell.

Had it not been for a late Handrè Pollard penalty, England could have made it to a second successive World Cup final.

Key Player 

As Owen Farrell takes a step back from international rugby, space has opened up for a new name to take the reins and steer England at No. 10.

Many think Marcus Smith is the heir apparent, owing not only to the flair he brings to the role, but also the scintillating form he’s been exhibiting in the Premiership and Champions Cup this season.

The Harlequins talisman already has outdueled his immediate rival George Ford when facing Sale Sharks earlier in the season and has since overseen the demolition jobs of Cardiff and Ulster in European competition.

In all those games, Smith made light work of opposing defenses, orchestrating breaks with his trademark step, acceleration and unrivalled vision. 

His rise to become England’s starting 10 has been a long time in the making, but now may be the moment he truly cemented that spot, at a time when numerous other nations are putting faith in more adventurous fly-halves.

Smith has all the skills to match, and even outshine, the likes of Finn Russell, Matthieu Jalibert and Paolo Garbisi.

Potential Breakthrough Star

A week can be a long time in sports. 

When Borthwick initially announced his training squad, it seemed Ollie Lawrence was poised to start in the 12 jersey. However, the Bath center has since been dropped due to injury, opening a midfield spot for someone to fill, and the man for the job could be Fraser Dingwall.

The Northampton Saints star has been floating around the national squad for some time, first getting a call-up in 2020, but has not yet earned his first cap. With Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi both unavailable, Dingwall is a shoo-in to replace them, powered by the powerful carrying and leadership qualities he has shown for the Saints this season.

And it seems Borthwick thinks very highly of him.

“When you watch Northampton, the players turn to him. He’s a key leader within that team," Borthwick said. "At 12 or 13, he’s strong and able to distribute in the draw. He’s been really strong in his carry and defense.”

Toughest Fixture 

Following the utter humiliation of last year’s tie with France, England will be on red alert this time around. 

Just under a year ago, the French traveled over to English shores and arrived with the taste of blood in their mouths, unleashing hell in the capital to run out 53-10 victors.

The seven-try hammering was the heaviest defeat in England’s history at Twickenham and, at the time, starkly showed Borthwick’s side was a long way off competing with the big boys.

Their subsequent successful run in the World Cup has revealed they’re better than first thought, yet they’re still expected to lose to France in mid-March.

You need only look at the utter dominance Toulouse and Bordeaux Begles have shown in the Champions Cup to foresee the strength in depth France has, particularly in its back line. 

England will need to be operating at full throttle to avoid another humiliation.

Tournament Outlook

Despite doing better than any other Northern Hemisphere nation in the World Cup, no one truly believed England was the best side. That’s why, heading into this Six Nations, it’s still Ireland and France that are favored above the rest.

It means expectations for the men in white are rather tempered, especially with team leaders Farrell and Courtney Lawes out of the picture.

The tournament will offer time for new faces to shine, yet there still will be an expectation to deliver on the pitch. 

If England can beat a youthful Wales side, a new-look Italy squad, overcome Scotland for the first time in four years and then go toe to toe with France and Ireland, you’d think Borthwick would be sufficiently happy with his team's progress. Afterall the goal now is to build a side that can win in the future.