Interview: Former England international Ben Kay previews England's Six Nations chances

Ben Kay in 2009
© PA Photos
Sports Mole catches up World Cup winner Ben Kay to preview England's chances at the upcoming Six Nations.

Former second-row Ben Kay was part of the England team that won the World Cup and Six Nations Grand Slam back in 2003.

With the 2013 instalment of the Six Nations due to get underway on the first weekend of February, Sports Mole caught up with the now-ESPN rugby analyst to discuss England's chances under Stuart Lancaster and who he believes will be their main threat to claiming the title for a fifth time.

Although not all the results went their way, how much confidence can England take from their performances during the Autumn internationals into the Six Nations?
"I think had they not had the New Zealand result and performance, they would have been a bit disappointed. I think that is what all the focus will be on - building on that. Particularly certain areas of their game, for example the breakdown. New Zealand have led the way for so long and were thoroughly outclassed there and England will concentrate on that.

"Also the attitude is important. The Six Nations brings a totally different set of pressures. If you lose your first two games of the Six Nations, it doesn't matter what you do in the next one. It tends to affect players and you can see a slightly less open style of game with teams not wanting to make mistakes and not wanting to lose the game.

"I think the challenge for the coaches is to set the same mindset that they had against New Zealand. We need to go out and force the pace - that is how we beat New Zealand. Particularly against Scotland first up, who are spoilers by nature in the way that they have beaten England in the past. They thrive off England mistakes and can cause them problems on their own ball. That will be the big challenge, to not get involved in that sort of arm wrestle and to make sure that they force the pace."

Is there a danger that the win over New Zealand could have raised expectations too much?
"It happens all the time. Look at where England were when Martin Johnson took over and that first Six Nations when they had that narrow victory in Italy. Steve Borthwick in his press conference said that they had to pick the positives out of it. You think about how poor England were and then the run of results that came after - in particular beating Australia twice at home and away. Everyone thought they were suddenly a fantastic side again.

"You can be a side capable of very good performances but that consistency is what you need to be a really good side. That's one of the reasons why New Zealand have been such a success. That takes time and England's most successful side, that's 2003, they had a fair few hiccups along the way but in that period of time, with a much older side, people could see it moving in the right direction. You could see something good was going to happen. That is what England need to do now - they need to be proactive in terms of thinking about where they want the side to be in three years and stick to that plan. Yes, you will make the odd change through selection, but you've got to be going towards a goal, which is consistency."

Chris Robshaw training for England© PA Photos
One player that came in for some criticism during those recent internationals was Chris Robshaw. Is he the right man to captain England during the Six Nations?
"Absolutely. The decision to go for the points instead of the corner has divided opinion. In my mind it was the right one. You look at the stats from Opta and England had scored 4 tries from lineouts in the 22 out of 40 and two of those were in friendlies in pre-season. One was also against Romania. England's record of driving lineouts isn't particularly good against any opposition, let alone the South Africans who have one of the most fiercesome backs and one of the best driving packs in world rugby.

"For me it was the right decision and I thought the treatment by the press in particular was pretty disgraceful and inaccurate because if they'd re-gathered that kickoff, they were much more likely to score a penalty than they were a try. The actual decision was right, it's just they failed to field the kickoff."

England seem to be carrying a number of injuries and niggles into the tournament. How much of a concern will that be for Stuart Lancaster?
"I think that always happens. You always get injuries - it is the nature of the game. There are some key players that had a big influence on that New Zealand game that are doubts - Manu Tuilagi and Alex Goode in particular. It does cause problems, but fortunately there is a lot of strength in depth in England at the moment. Ben Foden is back and Mike Brown is in the full-back position.

"Centre is probably the one position that is still a cause for concern. No-one seems to know what the best formation is or the style. There is an option of Lancaster starting both Toby Flood and Owen Farrell together, with perhaps Flood outside Farrell in the sort of role that Mike Catt used to do with Jonny Wilkinson at the beginning. Equally, Brad Barritt has had some big games and Jonathan Joseph, who can come in to try and prove the doubters wrong having had fantastic start to his club career but not quite managed it on the international stage."

With all that in mind, how do you rate England's chances of succeeding over the next few weeks?
"Looking at the tournament, a Grand Slam is going to be difficult for everyone. I don't think there is an out and out team that you would feel like having a flutter on to win the Grand Slam. I think in terms of being number one on top of the table at the end, England have got a good chance. There are some really difficult games.

"Everyone seems to be waxing lyrical about England's performance against New Zealand but France were probably the form team in the Autumn with their victories. Then you've got a severely-stung Welsh side where England have got to go and face the backlash of their Autumn performances and also the fact that England won there two years ago.

"Ireland are possibly just on the wane and maybe Brian O'Driscoll's powers are going slightly but he is still capable of one big performance. There is probably a bit of disappointment in Dublin, but Ireland have made the Aviva a bit of a fortress to go to. When you look at the fixtures and you have the blue teams at home and Wales and Ireland away, in previous seasons it has looked like the harder year so it will be tough for England. I still think they will be targeting being number one though."

Who are their main contenders for top spot then? France? Wales?
"The problem with the Six Nations is that until you actually start, you don't know. It's such a short tournament - it's not a season-long thing. It's all about momentum. The team that gets that momentum first becomes the threat. On paper yes France would be a threat, but it is at Twickenham. On paper Wales should be a nice easy walk in the park but I don't think I've ever had that at the Millennium Stadium - especially with the quality of players that they've got at the moment. They've also got the experience because a lot of their guys have won a Grand Slam and that counts for a lot."

ESPNscrum and ESPN Classic are covering the Six Nations on TV, online and mobile. The ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby 2013 International Game returns at ESPNscrum.com, while ESPN Classic airs more than 40 matches from the tournament's past.

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