Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees believes that England possess the supreme strength in depth necessary to cope with a spate of injuries that has threatened to undermine their forthcoming Six Nations title defence. The reigning champions go into this year's tournament knowing that a second straight Grand Slam triumph would see them break New Zealand's record of 18 consecutive tier-one Test victories, although the initial absences of influential key players such as George Kruis, Chris Robshaw and the Vunipola brothers has forced Eddie Jones to tinker with a winning formula.

"It will effect them to a certain extent, but I think the strength in depth in English rugby is massive," Twelvetrees, who won all 19 of his international caps to date during the reign of Stuart Lancaster, told IBTimes UK. "The guys that are coming in will do extremely good jobs. Joe Launchbury in the second row with Courtney Lawes – I don't think you are missing much there.

"You've got Nathan Hughes at number eight and Jonny May and Elliot Daly on the wings, two pretty dangerous players. I think we're in a pretty good place. I'm sure those guys will be gutted to miss out, but they are in a very strong position and, the way they have been playing, England will be very confident going forward into Saturday."

England's 2017 campaign begins at Twickenham this weekend, where they meet a typically unpredictable France team that do appear to be making real progress under the guidance of head coach Guy Noves.

A lengthy list of absentees that includes the likes of influential midfield maestro Wesley Fofana, Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Henry Chavancy and Yann David will likely put paid to any title ambitions, but a first top-half finish for six years should certainly be a realistic target for Les Bleus.

"If you look at the Top 14 and the players they've picked in their team, they're extremely dangerous," Twelvetrees said. "You give them a sniff and they'll take it. You look at the game that happened at Twickenham two years ago, 50 points to 30 odd (55-35) and it was just nuts.

"If they play anything like that, they are an extremely dangerous team. The French always have a big pack with a real good set-piece, and then you put their attacking flair on the back of that. It'll be a difficult game if they don't get things right. Mentally, England will know they'll be switched on. They'll have to be if they want to succeed."

Dylan Hartley and Guilhem Guirado
Captains Dylan Hartley and Guilhem Guirado will go head-to-head at Twickenham on Saturday

Ireland responded brilliantly after failing in their quest to win a third consecutive Six Nations championship last year, losing a narrow summer series decider to South Africa before finally ending their All Black hoodoo in Chicago and outlasting Australia in the autumn to become the first European team since 2003 to beat all three Southern Hemisphere giants in the same calendar year.

Most have already billed England's trip to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on the final weekend as a likely Grand Slam decider. However, Twelvetrees, who no doubt harbours painful memories of that costly 30-3 drubbing by Wales four years ago, is equally wary of a tricky trip to Cardiff in round two.

"100% Ireland will be extremely dangerous. But also Wales, we know how those games are always pretty intense. There's history there as well. Two away games that are extremely tough. England won't be looking too far past them to be honest.

"Scotland will be dangerous and France will be difficult, so I think they literally will take it this weekend, next week, a little break and then take it from there. A lot of people will be looking forward to that final weekend, but I think that Wales game could be a pretty hiccupy one as well if they don't get it right."

Billy Twelvetrees
Billy Twelvetrees appeared in two tour matches for the Lions in 2013

As a late injury call-up to the 2013 squad that saw off Australia to end a 16-year wait for a series win, Twelvetrees is all too aware of the pressures associated with a looming Lions tour. Jones has previously labelled the tradition as a "distraction for the players but a great attraction for rugby" and stressed that his team must understand that selection for New Zealand will be as a direct consequence of continuing to perform well for England.

"I think it's part of the job," Twelvetrees added when asked if players might view this year's Six Nations as essentially an audition for that famous red shirt. "There's always international honours and things like that, so it's always in the back of your mind. I think the boys will be fully-focused on winning for their international teams.

"I think they know that some good performances put on and the team wins the Six Nations, then you'll be in a position to potentially go on that tour. It'll be in the back of the mind and people will be asking about it all the time, but I think any international team will want to win that Six Nations, get that grand slam and then it should take care of itself."