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5 Feb, 2016 11:18

Six Nations preview: Can Jones and Hartley inspire England to success?

Six Nations preview: Can Jones and Hartley inspire England to success?

England will be expecting big things from their new coach and will hope to put the fiasco of the World Cup behind them, while Ireland will be bidding to win their third Six Nations Championship in a row.

The Southern Hemisphere's domination of the 2015 World Cup gave Europe much to ponder, but this latest competition at least offers the teams an opportunity to lay down a marker for the future.

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While Ireland will target a hat-trick of titles, England and France head into this year's Six Nations with new head coaches in charge.

Australian Eddie Jones has been tasked with reviving England's fortunes. The ex-Japan boss has appointed controversial New Zealand-born Dylan Hartley as his new captain, while promising to return the team to playing traditional 'English' rugby.

"If you talk about what a championship stands for, the Six Nations is about contest, isn't it?" said Jones. "It's a contest in the set-piece, it's a contest at the breakdown; it has never been a tournament known for its continuity.

"The reality is the start of this Six Nations is going to be about contest, and contest is about set-piece. We have a lot of work to do in that area but I believe with the talent we've got we can get back that fear factor of England having that dominant set-piece.

"We're England. We're not Ireland, we're not Wales - we'll play the England way."

England's recent struggles have been mirrored by France. Under previous coach Philippe Saint-Andre the French lost 12 out of 20 Six Nations matches, and finished bottom of the table in 2013.

Their abject performance in the defeat to New Zealand at the World Cup resulted in a change of coach, with Guy Noves tasked with kick-starting the recovery.

Noves has an impressive pedigree in club rugby, leading Toulouse to 10 French championships, four European Cups and two French Cups.

With the likes of Francois Trinh-Duc, Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard to call on, Noves may well be able to spark a French renaissance.

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Ireland's hopes of retaining the title for a third time have been hit by the retirement of lock Paul O'Connell.

After losing Brian O'Driscoll the previous year, Ireland will now look to new captain Rory Best for inspiration.

"I think if you speak to Paul before he took over from Brian and it was a big challenge stepping into some big shoes there," said Best. "Brian before that took over from Woody [Keith Wood]. So every time there is a change in captain you're filling big shoes because they are a pivotal part of Irish rugby.

"It is a challenge but I think one thing that Paul did really well was he didn't change how he went about things. He got put in there because how he was about the place and you don't have reinvent things, you just have to keep trying to lead by example and keep leaning on similar players like we have done in the two years under Joe [Schmidt] and that will continue."

Wales coach Warren Gatland is hoping his team will benefit from stability. This will be the ninth time Gatland has led Wales into the Six Nations and they were the only side to beat Ireland in last season's competition.

But for injuries the Welsh may well have enjoyed a better World Cup, and their mix of experience and talent marks them down as worthy favorites for the title.

Scotland boss Vern Cotter led Scotland to an impressive showing in the World Cup. The Scots narrowly lost to South Africa in the pool stage, before being controversially defeated by Australia in the quarter final.

Having lost all five games in last year's Six Nations, scrum-half Greg Laidlaw has targeted a fast start against England in their first game.

"Looking back, we've never started the tournament well," he said. "We have put ourselves under pressure and it is a difficult enough tournament as it is without starting well. Clearly the start is key and you can't look past the first game.

"The fixture [against England] is incredible. But at the same time we need to remove ourselves from that, otherwise you're going in there with a clouded mind and you need a clear mind to win these games.

"It is something we've worked at as a group. As players we want to make Murrayfield not a nice place to come and play against us, so it will be down to our performance."

Italy head into the Six Nations beset by injuries. Head coach Jacques Brunel will step down at the end of the competition, but with home games against England and Scotland, the Italians will hope to perform well in front of a partisan crowd.