Former England wrecking ball Victor Ubogu doubts whether Eddie Jones’s charges can replicate their achievements of the previous 12 months and navigate 2018 with only one defeat to their name.
England’s year sees them contest the Six Nations – starting this weekend – before travelling to South Africa for a summer tour and then facing back-to-back world champions New Zealand in the autumn – the latest stepping stones towards proving their World Cup-winning potential.
Tighthead prop Ubogu, who won 24 caps between 1992 and 1999, is wedded to the belief that England will continue to pursue a relentlessly upward curve under the stewardship of Jones.
But with their northern hemisphere rivals, in his view, looking more potent, and England’s well-documented injury woes, the 53-year-old believes the Six Nations poses a taxing conundrum.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were one or two slip-ups along the way for England this year,” Ubogu told City A.M.
“In terms of the Six Nations, it’s very difficult to predict the outcome. What makes it very interesting is the resurgence of Scotland, while Ireland are getting strong and stronger and looking very special, France are always unpredictable, and Wales appear to be getting their act together.
“It is going to be a very difficult tournament for England to win. But to win a third successive Six Nations would be massive, especially going into it with so many injuries and other teams being on their game.”
England feared earlier this week that they could be without as many as 18 players for their Six Nations opener with Italy in Rome on Sunday, although their casualty list has eased.
Chris Robshaw, Maro Itoje, Mike Brown and Jack Nowell have all been passed fit, yet England’s roll call of absentees through injury and suspension remains in double figures and they have eight uncapped rookies in their wider squad.
“To have that many people missing creates a huge problem,” said Ubogu.
“But the way Eddie Jones has operated [since his appointment], he has brought in quite a lot of young players to train with the team. Those players are now moving forward.
“They won’t be coming in completely fresh-faced. Jones’s methodology and the England ethos will not be completely new to them, so hopefully they should be able to slot in if needed.”
With so many inexperienced players, Itoje, despite having only 14 caps, is something of a senior name in the England camp, and a player Ubogu believes is destined for greatness.
“He has achieved a hell of a lot already. Six Nations Grand Slam? Done it. British and Irish Lions? Done it,” added Ubogu.
“Is he a future England captain in the making? He’s got that very relaxed and composed manner and does not have a hot temperament, which is very important in the heat of battle. He can lead from the front by sheer performance. We’ll have to wait and see.”
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