England’s hopes of successfully defending their Six Nations title have been dealt a huge blow with the news that some of their star players won’t feature in a competitive game until the tournament begins in February.

After breaching salary cap rules, Saracens were demoted to the second tier of English rugby – The Championship. It has now been confirmed that the new Championship season won’t begin until March, leaving four players who remained loyal to the cause without a game for weeks.

The captain of Eddie Jones’ side, Owen Farrell, is just one key player who will be forced to wait patiently on the sidelines, as will lock Mario Itoje and powerhouse brothers Mako and Billy Vunipola.

While Saracens officials are hoping to create some kind of cup competition to fill the void until the new Championship campaign kicks off, it’s fair to say that this is not the best preparation for Jones to see four of his key men without a meaningful top-tier game prior to England’s defence of the Six Nations, which gets underway against Scotland at Twickenham on February 6.

All four started in the Red Rose’s defeat of Italy to secure glory in the 2020 edition of the event, and each all played a hand in the Autumn Series victory as well – Farrell kicked eight out of ten conversion attempts in the group phase and landed the extra time penalty that secured the win over France in the final, while Mako Vunipola scored a much-needed try against Wales at a time when the contest hung in the balance.

Despite that, England will head into the new year as favourites in the Six Nations rugby union betting odds, and that is partly due to the fact that they will have home advantage when they tackle the side that could turn out to be their toughest opponent in the competition, France.

But will that be enough for Farrell and co. to retain their trophy?

Allez Les Bleus?

You have to go back a decade to find the last time that France won the Six Nations.

Les Bleus have been in a period of transition ever since, but the signs in the Autumn Series were that they have finally struck upon a potentially winning formula.

Fabien Galthié has come in as head coach and immediately improved France in both the attacking and defensive phases of the game, while the appointment of Charles Ollivon as captain – so far at least – appears to be something of a masterstroke.


The French went to Murrayfield in the first round of the Autumn Series and beat a dogged Scotland side, aided by an outstanding kicking show from Thomas Ramos, before delivering the customary trouncing of Italy next time out.

And in the final at Twickenham they appeared to have the trophy in their grasp, leading 19-12 before a last minute Luke Cowan-Dickie try and Farrell conversion forced the contest into extra time. There, the England centre struck a penalty to break French hearts.

But Les Bleus showed that they are somewhat back to their best, and a force to be reckoned with on the international scene once more.