England's surprisingly sub-standard performances at the Six Nations could be due to player burnout, says 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Lewis Moody.
After back-to-back titles, the first of which resulted in a Grand Slam, England surrendered the championship to Ireland with successive defeats against Scotland and France.
Moody, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, the long-standing supporter of rugby at all levels; from grassroots to the elite, believes the central contracts offered by Wales, Scotland and Ireland help protect against the long-term fatigue that Eddie Jones' squad may well be suffering from.
He told Omnisport: "I'm massively surprised. I have to admit that the level of England's performance in this tournament has not been what we would have expected going on previous form.
"What they've put out in recent games and recent years has been something very different. Whether it's a hangover from a long season and a Lions tour and those involvements, I don't know.
"Obviously, the Scottish, the Welsh and the Irish are centrally contracted and don't play as many games. I'm not looking for an excuse and whether that's an issue, I don't know. But certainly the quality of the play has been significantly less.
"Invariably when your teams and your players are confident on the back of good club form that shows its head in international jerseys as well."
Moody pointed to a lengthy Premiership season and the fact 15 England internationals were included in Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions squad for last year's tour to New Zealand as potential factors.
"You have to look at workload and the number of games that players are playing and those long seasons and a Lions tour, which is just an enormously pressurised, full-on in every aspect tour," he said.
"That takes a lot out of the players. And with the English Premiership season being significantly longer and the boys not being centrally contracted, they play anywhere up to 36 to 38 games. That's a lot of rugby. And then there's the summer tour.
"I certainly wouldn't say it's the only reason. I imagine it's had an impact but I don't think anyone would have thought that England would perform the way they have.
"But I think you have to take your hat off to the other nations, who've found an area to exploit and, on England's own ball, an inability to get players there quickly enough to secure possession has been a prominent feature of the last two or three matches."