New-look England backed by Hipkiss

ENGLAND have been backed to defend their RBS 6 Nations crown by Dan Hipkiss but the Bath centre has predicted a tough road for Stuart Lancaster’s new-look team.

The champions begin their campaign with a trip to Murrayfield to face Scotland today before jetting off to Italy a week later to face last season’s wooden spoon recipients, Italy.

England were chastised for their performance on and off the pitch during last October’s World Cup and no fewer than nine uncapped players have been drafted in to the squad as a result of a shake-up following the end of Martin Johnson’s tenure.

Despite this, Hipkiss is confident that his home nation can win the crown but predicted the tournament will throw up some shocks similar to the one that saw Italy defeat France in last year’s campaign.

“I have got to go for England,” said Ipswich-born Hipkiss, who played for Diss as a youngster.

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“If they try too hard and force things, that is when bad situations can occur but they will be so enthusiastic and focused and I think they will be fine.

“They will look to adopt the Saracens way of playing which means being difficult to beat and while they are not going to win by huge margins, they will keep in the game and wait for teams like Scotland to make mistakes later in the match.

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“England will go into the tournament thinking they can win it but I think they will benefit more once the likes of Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi, who are key players, return from injury. These guys are the crux of the team and perform well and I think up to that point, England may struggle a little.”

After Scotland, England travel to emerging nation Italy, who have improved in recent seasons.

“Most sides are capable of causing a shock and Italy, on their home patch, will be tough,” said Hipkiss.

“Plus, if the weather is bad that levels out the sides and plays into the likes of Italy’s hands because their side has a great pack of forwards.”

Meanwhile, Hipkiss has predicted a partisan atmosphere when England venture to Murrayfield today to take on the Auld Enemy.

Stuart Lancaster’s new-look team face Scotland, still smarting from their 16-12 defeat to England in the World Cup second round, in a game that is not for the faint-hearted.

“It’s probably the biggest rivalry in the tournament because of the history between the teams and the hatred the Scots have towards the English,” said Hipkiss.

“It has always been difficult for any England side to get a result there and Scotland ran us close in the World Cup.

“But there will be a lot of England players going to Murrayfield that have not experienced those disappointments in the past.”

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