Byline: CHRIS JONES
THE Year of the Lion has been particularly unkind to England and the portents for this RBS Six Nations championship suggest that Andy Robinson and his injury-ravaged squad should be prepared for more of the same.
There have been 15 British and Irish Lions tours since the Second World War and those years have yielded just one Grand Slam, a championship and a Triple Crown for England.
Twelve barren years are a poor return for the biggest Union in the sport and a Six Nations opener against a buoyant bunch of boyos in Cardiff tomorrow is a real cause for concern.
Wales will not win the championship, but their free-running style will be a worry for the rest of the Six Nations countries.
Ireland are rightly tipped as potential champions, closely followed in the betting stakes by France, leaving England to fret about another third-place finish.
That is where Sir Clive Woodward's tired England players finished last season - their worst showing since the championship was expanded to six teams. Mitigating circumstances were offered and those who didn't want to get back onto the treadmill - Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back - retired from Test rugby.
Even Sir Clive waved goodbye last summer to clear the decks for an assault on New Zealand as the Lions head coach this summer. He went with the expectation that England would provide the bulk of the Lions tour party, but that no longer looks certain.
Robinson signalled his elevation to the head coach role with wins over Canada and South Africa before Australia brought England back down to earth last November at Twickenham.
Since that defeat, the list of walking wounded has lengthened to include Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall, the World Cup midfield partnership.
Captain Jonny Wilkinson is set to miss the majority of the championship while Richard Hill is about to head to America for intensive rehabilitation on the injured knee ligaments that will keep him out of rugby until April.
Which brings us to Cardiff tomorrow. Wales possess some of the most exciting broken field runners in world rugby - as they have been telling anyone who will listen since the World Cup - but that threat has yet to evolve into regular victories against the game's elite. There have been wonderfully heroic defeats this season and new coach Mike Ruddock has been able to deflect criticism by pointing to the ambition his players have shown.
The honeymoon period is now over and Wales must start to deliver results to prove their ambition is not merely based on the premise that they will eventually gain reward for taking chances at Test level.
Unfortunately for Wales, pragmatism still has a key role to play at the very highest level of the sport. So, while England's selection of 18-yearold Mathew Tait to make his debut at centre against Wales suggests there will be a try fest, the truth will be rather more dour. England have selected a fearsome front five that will attempt to scrum Wales into the turf, wearing down their leg strength and taking the wind out of their lungs. …