RBS Six Nations 2013 - England preview
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC. Last Updated: January 29, 2013 10:06am
It is 12 months since the bright new dawn for English rugby and although the signs since have been encouraging, the pressure is now on to deliver.
The victory over New Zealand in the autumn has ramped up the expectations on England to deliver - however there is an air of self-belief among the squad.
Under Stuart Lancaster - and his trusted lieutenants of Graham Rowntree, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt - a confidence has been instilled into the players that they can beat anyone.
That was highlighted in the win over the All Blacks, with England written off after losses to Australia and South Africa. Although the results weren't there in those games, crucially the performances were - and that was used as the platform for England to build on against the world champions.
In last season's Six Nations England won away in Scotland, Italy and France - when few gave them much of a chance - and thumped Ireland at home. Only Scott Williams' late try and a disallowed effort from David Strettle stopped them from denying Wales the Grand Slam.
Lancaster has been rewarded for placing his faith in youth - with Tom Youngs, Owen Farrell and Joe Launchbury among those making big impacts - although emphasis this time around has been more on evolution than the revolution that greeted his arrival in charge last year.
The development of the squad has meant there is now real competition for places, with two or three players vying for each shirt. At hooker, for example, Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley are battling to start, Danny Care, Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson have all staked strong claims for the No 9 jersey, while at full-back Ben Foden, Alex Goode and Mike Brown are in contention.
Owen Farrell's kicking will be crucial to England's hopes of success, while they will be hoping Manu Tuilagi can overcome his ankle issues.
Coach: Stuart Lancaster
Captain: Chris Robshaw
Key man: Owen Farrell
Last season: 2nd
SkyBet Odds: 2/1
Prediction: 1st - Buoyed by a win over New Zealand, there is an air of confidence in the England squad. They have come on leaps and bounds under Stuart Lancaster, while there is a host of talented players pushing hard for places. Three home games will favour them - although trips to Dublin and Cardiff will seriously test their ambitions.