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Wednesday 25th January 2017
RUGBY'S GREATEST CHAMPIONSHIP
ANOTHER year, another launch of the RBS Six Nations at The Hurlingham in West London, albeit the last ever ‘RBS’ sponsored rugby championship. All six captains and coaches were jettisoned to the venue to face the world’s rugby media for the annual interrogation which usually begins with “what would be an acceptable finishing position for England/ Ireland/ Scotland/ Wales/ France/ Italy? (delete as appropriate)”, ends with the race to see which nation can escape most quickly from the tedium of answering the same questions by at least seven different media channels!
Again it was sports presenter Andrew Cotter who put the all the captains through their paces in a live Q&A, with three new faces on the podium in France’s Guilhem Guirado, Ireland’s Rory Best and England’s Dylan Hartley, alongside Lions hopeful Alun Wyn Jones, Greig Laidlaw and the legend that is Sergio Parisse.
And with the Women’s Six Nations running alongside with more pomp than ever before, the lady captains were heralded in the same fashion.
For more on the Women's championship launch and schedule etc., head over here:
Last year’s champions, England Rugby will be defending their title, with fans hoping their team will make history by the end of 18th March 2017 by winning the Grand Slam for a second consecutive year. But Head Coach, Eddie Jones is having none of that crystal ball gazing nonsense, only focussed on the first game against France in Le Crunch at Fortress Twickenham.
Sporting a spectacular shiner in the making after slipping in the bathroom that morning and bashing his eye, Jones assured the great and good of the rugby media that he did not need to follow any head injury assessment protocol and is raring to go, with his chosen captain firmly reinstated after a short disciplinary stint on the sidelines again. He summed up the upcoming championship for all six nations,
“I think it’s an excellent Six Nations coming up. if you look at the recent form of all the contestants, it's very positive.
“Ireland set world rugby upside-down by beating the All Blacks, so they come in in good fettle. Scotland have been promising to beat a big side for a long time, and should've beaten Australia in November. It's Vern Cotter's last series and there will be some emotional advantage in that. Italy under Conor O'Shea, they beat South Africa! A fantastic achievement, and with Brendan Venter on board as the defence coach, so will improve immeasurably.
“You like at most Lions squads, and the majority of players come from Wales; they've got talent and Rob Howley as head coach will take them forward.
“And France, they should've beaten Australia, and you take the Barrett intercept out and they would've beaten New Zealand. They've got a big physical team that know how they want to play, so it's going to be a great tournament.”
Scotland Vern Cotter is pleased to have his squad back together on the back of excellent European Cup victories,
"It was good to get back together, it's been a few months since we have had a few games and learning for the RBS 6 Nations, it does not get much hard than that. There's a buzz about the place but a sense of realism as well, this is going to be tough. We are going to have to work hard and the players have been working hard understanding who we are playing against and the quality they have."
After the new Wales Captain, Alun Wyn Jones showed his OCD tendencies by neatly arranging all the recorders in front of him in the presser, Rob Howley is pleased with his side following their Autumn win over the Springboks, just their third win over the two-times world champions in 110 years.
"After the South Africa game we said in the changing rooms that it's another level we need to go to and that level will need to come in the RBS 6 Nations. In the Autumn we got over the line, won three games and the players can be applauded for that."
The Azzurri head coach O'Shea has been blown away by the enthusiasm for rugby in Italy.
"First and foremost, we want to make sure that we focus absolutely 100 per cent on Wales, because the last couple of RBS 6 Nations games against them have been difficult. So we want to make sure we gain their respect back, and start to earn their respect back, and show that we're moving in the right direction. We'll look at Ireland then.
"For the first time I've experienced just how proud and passionate these people are, and hopefully we can give them something over the next few weeks that will show we're on the right path."
Ireland’s Joe Schmidt is excited by the prospect of the upcoming tournament after a positive Autumn series was had for most.
"It's very hard for anyone to rank one to six, I think a lot of people will struggle to get it right. I don't think it's fair to predict, it's going to be hard for anyone to get on top.
"A top two finish (for us) would be great, I know last year I said top three, we have to try and be top two again but it's hard to say anything beyond that. I think it will be the most competitive (Championship) since I have been involved.”
And lastly, Head Coach of Les Bleus, Guy Novès has injected that long-awaited French flair back into his squad,
"In November we saw the game plan was starting to take shape and it was becoming spectacular. When a French player was determined, he could knock over a New Zealander. We could sense the players were happy to be back in the France squad with the game plan. There are only positive vibes.
“The stats show that we are the team that made the most breaks in the RBS 6 Nations and in November we were level with the All Blacks on the stats front. We have nothing to be ashamed of, we're on the right path. We can feel that the team is progressing, everyone can.
"What is missing is the cherry on top, to entertain people and to win. It's important to keep improving and reach our goal, of winning matches."
So there we have it - the start of the greatest rugby championship on earth (though a few down under may beg to differ!).