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England target Six Nations title with a game to spare

Not since their World Cup-winning year of 2003 have England won a Grand Slam, while it is five years since they were last crowned Six Nations champions.

England's Dylan Hartley looks ahead to the crunch game against Wales in the Six Nations.
Henry BrowneREUTERS

The remorseless ticking of the clock on a professional career as much as a desire for World Cup revenge will fuel Six Nations leaders England's bid to beat Wales at Twickenham on Saturday, according to captain Dylan Hartley.

Both a clean sweep and the title are in England's sights and for the 29-year-old Hartley, a veteran of 69 Tests, now is not the time to go close again.

Victory over Wales, whose 28-25 World Cup pool win at Twickenham in September did much to ensure hosts England's early exit from the tournament, allied to Scotland beating France at Murrayfield on Sunday, would give Hartley's men the title in their first season under Australian coach Eddie Jones.

England captain goes through the paces during an England training session.
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England captain goes through the paces during an England training session.Henry BrowneREUTERS

"The scariest thing for me is looking back on my England career having not won something substantial," said Hartley.

"All of the older guys are scared that we'll walk away without winning something," the New Zealand-born hooker insisted. "We're running out of time."

Hartley was left out of the World Cup squad by former coach Stuart Lancaster for the latest in a long line of disciplinary offences that have blighted his career.

But Jones had no hesitation in naming him captain in a bid to help restore England's reputation for aggressive forward play.

Both England and Wales will field unchanged starting XVs following wins over Ireland (21-10) and France (19-10) respectively last time out.

England, however, will have the option of bringing fit-again powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi off the bench in the second half to test a Wales midfield where Jamie Roberts has been an immovable object in defence, if not always an irresistible force in attack, this Six Nations.

"He has power and pace and that innate rugby sense," said Jones. "We've told Manu to just run."

Jones's starting XV features eight survivors from the World Cup loss to Wales but he insisted revenge was not on the agenda.

"We are a new England," he said. "Probably 70 percent (of the players) are the same but the rest are new to Test rugby. We have a new philosophy to how we train, how we think and how we play."

One of those beaten England players from the World Cup loss who will be involved again at the weekend is former captain Chris Robshaw.

The Harlequins back-row was criticised in that match for not going for goal with a late penalty that might have tied the game and instead opting for an attacking line-out that failed to produce a try.

"The World Cup will always be a part of me and a lot of the guys here," said Robshaw. "You cannot let it hang over you too much. This is a new tournament, an exciting one, but the World Cup will always be a part of you."

Wales overcame a 10-point deficit and numerous injuries before scrum-half Gareth Davies's late try, allied to 23 points from Dan Biggar's boot, sealed victory.

Both half-backs will be involved again on Saturday and they will each need watching by England.

Meanwhile the battle between childhood friends Billy Vunipola (England) and Taulupe Falatau (Wales), the two form No 8s of the tournament, is one of several intriguing match-ups.

Neither England nor Wales have hit the heights in attack this season and with Jones accusing the Welsh of "illegal" scrummaging, only for the visitors to answer in kind with comments about home prop Joe Marler, it's easy to see where both teams think the match will be decided.

Wales, who would also be chasing a Grand Slam but for an opening draw with champions Ireland, are very much in the title hunt and coach Warren Gatland said: "I think both teams have got very strong defences.

"We won't be throwing the ball all over the place, we will be pretty direct," the New Zealander added.


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