The 2013 RBS Six Nations are right around the corner and it appears to be an important moment for English rugby.
In early December, a group of 22 English rugby players walked into Twickenham Stadium and soundly defeated a New Zealand All Black team that hadn't lost in its past 20 matches.
It was rightly hailed as one of the greatest victories by any England squad in the long history of the Rugby Football Union (RFU). It was all the more remarkable because it seemed like such a long time since anything of the kind had been seen in English rugby.
Anywhere in English rugby.
With the 2015 Rugby World Cup due to take place in London, many nervous questions have been asked in every corner of England as to where rugby's founding nation now stands in comparison to its contemporaries.
On their face, those questions have some basis.
- English teams have won only a single Six Nations title stretching back to 2003.
- England seems unlikely to supply a majority of the starting XV for 2013 Lions squad.
- No English rugby team has held the Heineken Cup since the London Wasps victory of 2006.
- French teams dominated last year's Amlin Challenge Cup.
- England's Under 20's finished 7th in last year's IRB World Junior Championship.
- England's quarter-final exit at the 2011 World Cup was a scandal both on and off the pitch.
The 2013 RBS Six Nations: God Save The Queen
England head into their 2013 RBS Six Nations campaign ranked fifth in the IRB world rankings. Their recent positive performance against New Zealand will have given them some confidence heading into the February campaign, but this is a relatively recent trend. Last fall England also came up short against South Africa and Australia.
To understand the thinking that should hopefully drive England's turn-around after the debacle of the 2011 World Cup, I give you Sir Graham Henry.
Perhaps the greatest rugby coach of all time, Henry had stinging criticisms of English rugby, which he penned in a column for TheRugbySite.com, just under a year ago.
A country with over a million players should be the best team in the world and England's potential in the backs is as good as it has ever been.
But how frustrated those players must get in a white shirt.
England and the English clubs play a game based on fear and a generation of promising backs are dying on their feet. That has to change.
Henry's words immediately drew the wrath of casual England fans, who will wrap themselves in the St. George Cross no matter how bad things get. To them, Henry's accusation of a "fearful" England game plan must surely just be another way of heaping praise upon his All Blacks, who supposedly display more bravery.
But experienced rugby analysts knew exactly what Henry was saying.
England's entire problem, of course, revolved around their one undeniable area of strength, which somehow they had managed to turn to their disadvantage. England's scrum has become so dominant in recent years that field position and ball security had begun to matter more to its players and management than the idea of scoring tries through attack.
Last November, England's play against the All Blacks exhibited none of the conservative elements that Henry had criticized. If England's coaches can be brave enough not to fall back to the failed strategies of the past and give their backs the freedom to express themselves, a Six Nations title may well be theirs for the taking.
Sir Graham was entirely right when he said that "a country with over a million players should be the best team in the world." Fortunately for England, their country is also blessed with a deep-rooted sporting culture and some of the best sporting minds on the planet. It surely can't be long until the top brass at the RFU began to heed Sir Graham Henry's words and to filter his principles down into England's rugby culture.
Will that change begin to show itself in time for England's 2013 RBS Six Nations campaign? Only time will tell.
England open their campaign with the annual Calcutta Cup match versus Scotland, on February 2nd.
England's 2013 RBS Six Nations Training Squad (via RFU.com)
Calum Clark (Northampton Saints) Alex Corbisiero (London Irish ) Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers) Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers) Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints) James Haskell (London Wasps) Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs) Joe Launchbury (London Wasps) Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints) Joe Marler (Harlequins) Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby) Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers) Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) Mako Vunipola (Saracens) Thomas Waldrom (Leicester Tigers) David Wilson (Bath Rugby) Tom Wood (Northampton Saints) Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Chris Ashton (Saracens) Brad Barritt (Saracens) Mike Brown (Harlequins) Freddie Burns (Gloucester Rugby) Danny Care (Harlequins ) Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints) Owen Farrell (Saracens) Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers) Ben Foden (Northampton Saints) Alex Goode (Saracens) Jonathan Joseph (London Irish) David Strettle (Saracens) Manusamoa Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers) Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby) Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Jeff Hull is a contributor at Bleacher Report. Follow him by clicking on the link below.
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