Eddie Jones is expected to name Dylan Hartley as England captain for the RBS Six Nations 2016 on Monday.
Hartley will replace Chris Robshaw as skipper, who led the side throughout the Stuart Lancaster regime. However Robshaw came in for heavy criticism for his decision making in critical moments, particularly the World Cup.
Hartley has suffered with concussion and rib problems in recent weeks, but is set to play for his club side Northampton Saints this weekend. The controversial figure will be selected by Jones because of his aggressive, hard-nosed style of play.
Respected figures in the game including Martin Johnson have raised fears about the decision to make the 29-year-old the captain, but Jones looks to have made his mind up.
With just under three weeks to go until the start of the Six Nations, the excitement is beginning to build. England play two huge matches at Twickenham in Jones’s first tournament in charge. England v Ireland (Saturday 27th February) is the Australian’s first home game and the defending champions will provide a stern test.
England v Wales (Saturday 12th March) is always one of the most hotly anticipated games of the season. England will be looking for some Twickenham revenge after losing to their bitter rivals in the World Cup.
Ashton out of Six Nations 2016
One player whose Six Nations campaign is over before the tournament has even start is Chris Ashton. The Saracens winger earned a recall after some impressive form for Saracens; but he received a 10-week ban for making contact with the eyes of Ulster’s Luke Marshall in a European Champions Cup game.
Jones spoke shortly after the announcement saying: “He’s been playing well this season and it looks like he has been working hard. Everyone has set-backs and it’s about how hard he fights back now.
“He has to serve his time, come back, make sure he is looking after his fitness, his speed and his skills and make sure he comes back in good fettle.
“If he is back on the field and playing well then he will be available for selection again. I’m very disappointed for him and disappointed for the team, but we move on.”
It is a blow for Ashton who will appeal the decision in the hope he can represent England during the Six Nations.
However Jones did confirm that Australian legend George Smith will provide some specialist breakdown coaching to the England forwards, saying: “George will definitely come in next Wednesday to help the back rowers. But it’s very informal. He’s not a coach as such, he’s doing it out of friendship.
“He’s one of the best defence breakdown forwards in the world. He will help our aspiring number sevens.”