England have strength in reserve over their depleted Six Nations rivals | Paul Rees

Eddie Jones’s side are well placed to chase down a third successive title, despite missing a number of Lions

The Six Nations launch was a story of the sick nations. Between them they had 57 players either doubtful or unavailable for at least the opening round, a figure that was added to the following day when the Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.

England led the way with 14 absentees, followed by Ireland on 11 and Wales, together with Scotland, on 10. The new France coach, Jacques Brunel, is without nine players, although such is his rush to airbrush out his predecessor, Guy Novès, that he would probably have overlooked most of them, and Italy four. It is probably not coincidental that the two countries with the lowest casualty rates were not involved in last year’s Lions tour to New Zealand.

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