Six Nations 2022: ‘Change your life’ – Eddie Jones issues challenge before tournament

Dan Biggar, Finn Russell, Marcus Smith and Johnny Sexton
Dan Biggar, Finn Russell, Marcus Smith and Johnny Sexton – all British and Irish Lions – will be key men for their teams over the next seven weeks
Dates: 5 February to 19 March
Coverage: Selected matches live on BBC TV, commentaries on BBC Radio 5 Live & Sports Extra, podcasts on BBC Sounds, live text and highlights on BBC Sport website and app.

Coach Eddie Jones has challenged England to “change their lives” by snatching back the initiative from Scotland in rugby’s oldest Test match.

Scotland won at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years in 2021 and have lost one of their past four meetings.

England will have to buck a run of injuries as well as recent form in their Six Nations opener on Saturday.

Captain Owen Farrell, key centre Manu Tuilagi and in-form forward Courtney Lawes are out injured.

By contrast, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend is almost entirely free of injury concerns, with British and Irish tourists Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe, Ali Price, Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson all starting.

“You have got a chance to play in an England side that is young, but very good and play rugby that people will remember for the rest of their lives and be etched in history,” Jones told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“They can change their lives, these young players on Saturday. This is how they can make a name for themselves.”

England finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations, losing to Scotland, Wales and Ireland and conceding more points than in any of the previous 21 editions of the tournament.

However they enjoyed a better autumn campaign, where a revamped team beat Tonga, Australia and world champions South Africa.

Scotland finished only a place higher than England in the 2020 table, but enjoyed a much more positive campaign, with a landmark win away to France to add to their Twickenham success. It could easily have been even better with narrow losses at home to Wales and Ireland, by one and three points respectively, separating them from a first Grand Slam in more than 30 years.

Elsewhere on the opening weekend, defending champions Wales face resurgent Ireland, fresh from overturning New Zealand in November, while tournament favourites France take on Italy.

Auld rivals squabble over status

The bookmakers predict a narrow England victory. But Jones insists Scotland should be “red-hot favourites” given the two sides’ contrasting form and injury issues.

“All the external pressure is on Scotland,” he said

“We always have pressure to win, everyone expects England to win every game so we are always coping with that, but for Scotland this is a new pressure.”

Townsend says such talk is the sort of pre-match grandstanding he expects from the opposition.

“Every coach does this little song and dance going into a game trying to convince the media they are underdogs and telling the players their backs are against the wall, ‘we’re going to this hostile place’,” he said.

“The bookies pick the favourites and I know we’re not the favourites with them.

Scotland v England is the BBC's live game on the opening weekend of the 2022 Six Nations
Scotland v England is the BBC’s live game on the opening weekend of the 2022 Six Nations

“It’s not really something we talk about or worry about. The reason we’re being spoken about like that is because our players have driven the standards in training and have gone through experiences – not always pleasant – that have made them better and brought them closer together as a group.”

England’s dismal showing in last year’s competition prompted changes in their squad and style, with an influx of new faces and a commitment to a more adventurous, running game.

Their starting XV contains seven players with 10 caps or fewer, with number eight Sam Simmonds and second row Nick Isiekwe coming in from the cold to make the first international starts since 2018.

However, a forecast for high winds and heavy rain means both sides might resort to a more conservative gameplan.

England triumphed 13-6 in Edinburgh two years ago when Storm Ciara blow through Murrayfield and reduced both teams to safety-first strategies.

However, Townsend believes his players have the knowhow now to adapt and thrive in such conditions.

“A lot of our players experienced that two years ago, and we referred to it a fair bit 12 months ago in terms of how we can take a different gameplan into wet conditions – like it was down at Twickenham last year,” he said.

“I felt the team got their execution and decision-making spot on.”

Wales wrestle with injury list

Taine Basham
Basham made his Test debut against Canada last July

Wales came into last year’s competition after seven defeats in the previous nine Tests and facing serious questions over the suitability of Wayne Pivac as successor to long-term head coach Warren Gatland.

But the side came together around Pivac’s tactics to grind out a route to the title, coming within an injury-time French try of a Grand Slam that few saw coming.

They will have to defy expectations once again, however, given a star-studded injury list featuring the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi.

“We’ve everything to gain and nothing to lose,” said Pivac

“That’s the attitude, going out there and expressing ourselves.

“We worked hard to get that title last year, and we’d like to be in a position to try to do that again.”

But there are reasons for hope. Wing Louis Rees-Zammit, 21, was the breakout star of last season’s tournament with four tries and promises he is getting even quicker.

And the conveyor belt of back-row talent has thrown out another gem in Taine Basham, who starts against Ireland alongside Ellis Jenkins, who made his Test comeback in the autumn, three years on from a serious knee injury.

Ireland is a formidable first fixture for Wales, however, with Andy Farrell’s side on a run of eight straight wins and their seven previous visits to Dublin yielding only one win.

“Putting ourselves under pressure in the autumn against great sides is one step and the next step is a competition with a trophy at the end of it that we want to do really well in,” said Farrell.

France, who are hunting their first Six Nations title since 2010, take on perennial bottom side Italy on Sunday in the final fixture of the opening weekend.

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