Injuries, tired players and a looming showdown with the All Blacks are just some of the reasons why England will not win an historic third Six Nations title in a row.
But such excuses have been rubbished by a former England international, who believes the key to a successful title defence for Eddie Jones’s side is shutting out the noise and focussing on the task at hand.
Ben Foden is of the opinion that the England side he was a member of not so long ago remains the team to beat as the 2018 NatWest Six Nations’ championship kicks-off this weekend.
A relatively-straightforward appointment with Italy in Rome tomorrow is followed by the more traditionally challenging fixtures against Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland.
Each of the latter four will harbour genuine aspirations to topple an England team that has lost just once in the last two years of the northern hemisphere’s leading international competition.
But while agreeing with the growing consensus that the gap between the top team and chasing pack is narrowing, Foden still feels England’s biggest enemy could be themselves.
Everyone is looking ahead to that game with New Zealand in November, Eddie has kept it at bay for as long as he could, waiting until he has got his players buying into his culture, but England have a major task in front of them first with this Six Nations.Ben Foden
“There’s plenty of excuses and reasons why England can’t make it three in a row; the Lions players will be tired after a busy summer, our Premiership players don’t get as much rest as their counterparts in the Pro12, and England have too many injuries,” said Foden.
“But, for me, they just need one reason to win it and that is making sure they are fully focused on what they are doing, fully focused on their job and the game-plan.
“Yes, England have a lot of injuries but you look at the team selected for Italy and it’s still a very strong, experienced team.
“Everyone is looking ahead to that game with New Zealand in November, Eddie has kept it at bay for as long as he could, waiting until he has got his players buying into his culture, but England have a major task in front of them first with this Six Nations.”
Wales and Scotland kick-off the 2018 championship this afternoon with many fancying the Scots to continue their gradual improvement in recent years.
They have won five of their last 10 games in the Six Nations, having claimed the wooden spoon after five straight defeats just three years ago.
Their home game with England three weeks today could be one of the more pivotal games of the championship.
“Scotland are playing very well and it will be very tricky up in Murrayfield, it’s a very intimidating atmosphere,” said Foden.
“Scotland could break a few hearts. Plus Ireland are looking dangerous and with the French team you just don’t know what you’re going to get; brilliant one week, rubbish the next.
“It’s good that England have got two of the toughest games at home (Wales and Ireland), Twickenham is such a huge advantage.
“So the games against France and Scotland are going to be key. The task for those two games is to go there and execute their game-plan, whatever that may be, you stick to it and you execute it.”
How ever they progress, Foden will have to watch on helpless like the rest of us. A succession of injuries robbed the counter-attacking Northampton Saints full-back of a prolonged international career, cutting it short in November, 2013 after 34 caps over five years with England.
“I enjoyed my international time when I was flourishing,” said Foden, 32, who, as part of Greene King IPA’s Supporters’ Supporter campaign, will watch England’s game tomorrow with a group of fans in London.
“Injuries at the wrong time held me back. It’s a tough old game and you’ve got to take your opportunities. Mike Brown came in and filled my shoes and he’s never looked back.
“Looking back on it now, it all passes in a blur. When you’re in the moment, you take it for granted, you think you’re invincible, and you don’t savour it.
“Not that it’s easy to do that as a player. That’s one of the things Eddie has done well, keeping people on their toes. He’s been very good for England.”
‘England Rugby star Ben Foden enjoys a pint of Greene King IPA with England Rugby fans at a Six Nations screening in London. Follow @GreeneKingIPA #SupportersSupporter for more information.’