The Six Nations got off to a bang on the first weekend in February, with the best of the Northern Hemisphere going up against each other in the first tournament of 2018.
The game of the opening weekend was undoubtedly Ireland’s stunning victory in France, where a late, late Johnny Sexton drop-goal secured a victory for the Irish and set them up perfectly for the rest of the tournament, elsewhere Wales were far too strong for Scotland, defeating them 34-7, whilst as expected, England breezed past Italy with a bonus point victory, as Eddie Jones’ side made the perfect start to their title defence.
England are aiming for their third consecutive Six Nations crown, but were dealt a crushing blow inside the first ten minutes of the contest in Italy, with Ben Youngs forced from the field and replaced by Danny Care, with the scrum-half suffering a serious injury.
Since then it has been confirmed that Youngs will miss the remainder of the Six Nations, with the Leicester Tiger facing four months on the sidelines after rupturing ligaments in his left knee, dealing Jones a huge blow, not just in England’s Six Nation title defence, but also his pre-planning for the World Cup next year.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 5, 2018
Jones is looking to oversee a successful World Cup campaign in Japan in 2019, with the memory of England’s failed 2015 effort still fresh. Since 2015, the Red Rose have been the form team in the Northern Hemisphere, with perhaps New Zealand the only team in the world better than Jones’ side at the current time. That is reflected in the odds given on bet365’s Rugby Union betting markets, with the All Blacks heavy favourites, but England installed as second-favourites at a price of 7/2.
England under Jones have been almost perfect, and the Australian will be frustrated with Youngs’ lay-off, as it means a key cog of his regular unit will miss vital time with his squad ahead of the World Cup. Of course, as one door closes, another one opens, with England calling Richard Wigglesworth into their Six Nations squad, whilst Care will also be handed an opportunity to stake his claim for the number nine shirt on a regular basis.
Thanks everyone for your kind messages of support with great people around me I’ll be back to contribute soon enough.
— Ben Youngs (@benyoungs09) February 6, 2018
A backline working from the axis of Youngs, George Ford and Owen Farrell were beginning to look irresistible, and another huge concern for Jones will be how they cope without a third of that axis, with the trio’s slick handling and ability to use quick ball proving to be lethal.
It is for Care and Wigglesworth to now step up and impress Jones, by turning in performances, during the remainder of the Six Nations and also when they return to club rugby, which prove that Youngs will have challengers for the scrum-half position in Japan.
It remains to be seen what Youngs’ injury does to England’s hopes of landing a third straight Six Nations crown, but there is every chance that Jones isn’t too bothered about that piece of silverware, with his eyes ever so slowly turning towards the bigger picture and the World Cup in 2019.
Young missing vital time with his England teammates this year will cast a shadow over a positive start to the 2018 Six Nations campaign.