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England make five changes as RBS Six Nations defence begins

February 2, 2017

England's team has been named for the opening RBS Six Nations match against France on Saturday (February 4th), with five changes being made from the team that beat Australia in December.

The side will feature Elliot Daly on the left with Jonny May playing wide on the right. Joe Marler is back to play at loose-head prop, Joe Launchbury will be in the second row and Maro Itoje will play as the blindside flanker in place of injured former captain Chris Robshaw, with Courtney Lawes taking the Saracens star's place in the second row.

With the highly-rated Itoje in particular back in the side, England will be stronger than in the autumn, when they nevertheless kept their winning streak under Eddie Jones going, stretching it to 13 matches with four straight wins.

Discussing the side to face France, Jones said: "We've been able to select a very strong and experienced team to play against France and we are excited to get the tournament underway.

"There’s a great rivalry between the countries so we’re looking forward to a great occasion playing against one of England’s oldest foes. We are ambitious and want to be the number one team in the world."

That statement underlined the bigger picture that the Australian has in mind for the England side. To win the Six Nations - even with a Grand Slam as they did last year - would not be enough, as the coach has his eyes on continual improvement with a view to topping the All Blacks and winning the 219 World Cup in Japan.

Challenging stereotypes and making England's style of play more varied is one way this could be achieved. Looking forward to the clash against France, Jones said: "In rugby terms you’ve traditionally got two contrasting styles - French flair and England’s dogged conservative approach, but we want to be absolutely daring against the French in this first game and set the standard for the tournament."

Fans booking corporate hospitality for the matches at Twickenham against Italy on February 26th and Scotland on March 11th may be particularly excited by the flexible approach England are taking. Indeed, a team with more flair is likely to score more tries and with bonus points on offer this year for teams scoring four or more tries, that could be a deciding factor in who wins the tournament.

Indeed, high-scoring wins against the Italians and Scots - two of the weaker sides in the tournament in recent years - could be crucial for England, who face tough away games against Wales and Ireland. While a second Grand Slam would see England break the All Blacks' record of 18 straight Test wins, it was Ireland who ended that run and the men in green, who also beat Australia last autumn, are likely to pose the greatest threat.

For that reason, fans will also keep an eye on the other matches and in particular any bonus points that are earned, with the opening round of matches also seeing Scotland taking on Ireland at Murrayfield and Italy hosting Wales in Rome.

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