The England rugby squad will have a new look tomorrow at the start of the defense of its 6 Nations title against Scotland.
An interim coach, a new captain and a number of first-time players will be on display at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. The changes followed last year’s World Cup run that featured disappointment on and off the field.
Stuart Lancaster is serving as interim coach after Martin Johnson quit in November, while Chris Robshaw takes over as captain for the retired Lewis Moody. Lancaster’s first squad of 22 will feature eight new players, including starters Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell and Phil Dawson.
“There are some lads who’ve come to England for the first time, some lads who’ve been on the cusp and some lads who’ve been to a World Cup,” Lancaster told reporters at last week in London. “We’ve got to let them go and have no fear of failure.”
France hosts Italy in tomorrow’s tournament opener and Wales visits Ireland in two days. World Cup runner-up France is favored to lift the trophy by U.K. bookmakers, followed by Wales, Ireland and England.
“Everybody sees it as a wide-open championship,” Wales captain Sam Warburton told reporters. “I don’t think many people are predicting what’s going to happen.”
France is the 6-4 favorite with Ladbrokes.com, meaning a successful bet of $4 will return $6 plus the original stake. Wales is 3-1, England and Ireland are both 4-1 and Scotland is 25-1. Italy is the long shot at 150-1.
England won the 6 Nations last year for the first time since 2003, missing a Grand Slam with a final-game loss to Ireland. It went to the World Cup in New Zealand with a goal of reaching the semifinals and came up short with a quarterfinal loss to France.
England also made headlines with a number of incidents involving players and staff. Several players, including record points scorer Jonny Wilkinson, joined Moody in retirement in the aftermath, while other squad members were omitted this year.
“The fact there’s been a lot of change has brought a lot of energy,” said flanker Tom Wood, who will miss the first two games with a toe injury. “It’s a fresh start.”
The game will be a rematch of England’s World Cup pool win in October. Scotland coach Andy Robinson recently called England “arrogant” in that victory and said he’d use the anger of the loss as motivation.
“You use every emotion, that is what rugby is about,” Robinson said. “It’s a passionate game, it’s a physical game and you’ve got to channel all that into your performance.”
France looks to avenge a 22-21 defeat in Rome last year, its first loss to Italy in the tournament. The French then became the first team to reach the World Cup final after losing two pool games and new coach Philippe Saint-Andre wants the team to overcome its inconsistent form.
“This is French rugby for the last four years, for the last 100 years,” he told reporters. “We can be one day up and one day near the floor. The biggest challenge is to try to be very consistent.”
Wales is the second favorite after a run to the World Cup semifinals, which included a quarterfinal win over Ireland and Warburton wants the team to take the same approach it took in New Zealand.
“We played each game as just another rugby match,” he said. “We played with no fear and never went into our shells. That will probably be the same message this time.”
Brian O’Driscoll, who’s scored an Ireland-record 25 tries in the 6 Nations, will miss the tournament after shoulder surgery. The Irish have not had back-to-back 6 Nations victories since winning the Grand Slam in 2009.