Cautious optimism all round at RBS Six Nations launch

The changes may have been vast since last year’s Six Nations launch at the Hurlingham Club, but once again all six sets of coaches and captains appeared positive of achieving success during the RBS Six Nations 2012.

In all there were three new coaches and five new captains in attendance at this year’s launch, with only the coaching trio of Declan Kidney, Warren Gatland and Andy Robinson surviving from last year, along with France captain and IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir.

Robinson named a new Scotland captain yesterday in Ross Ford, and the Edinburgh hooker was delighted with the news. “It’s a role I’m comfortable with fulfilling after captaining Edinburgh a few times this season, and I can’t wait to get on the field.” When Ford was asked whether he would perhaps need to be more vocal on the field given his quiet demeanour off it, Robinson was quick to state that the media did not know what Ford was like in the dressing room, describing him as one of the more prominent speakers and that he would not need to change on becoming captain.

The main message from the Scottish camp was that despite being able to create plenty of try-scoring opportunities in recent times, through a combination of pressure from the opposition and handling the atmosphere of a multi-thousand crowd, they had been unable to make the most of their chances. This was being addressed in camp as a crucial area to improve. Another was the need to get off to a fast start, given that in previous years after failing to pick up a result in their first two matches, Scotland had struggled with the pressure to win which as a result had affected their game. The positive energy surrounding the game in Scotland though, with Edinburgh’s progression to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, could prevent that from happening.

On to Wales, with Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton taking a quick break from the camp in Gdansk, Poland to attend this morning’s launch. Graphically depicted by Gatland as a university campus with a reality check, Warburton admitted he relished the “eat, train, sleep” environment and even the cyro-chambers designed to improve the players recovery. This cannot come soon enough, with Gatland revealing that Gethin Jenkins will be out for 4-5 weeks, and with star fly-half Rhys Priestland a doubt to face Ireland next weekend. Looking back on the Rugby World Cup, Gatland commented how on returning to New Zealand at Christmas, the locals praised Wales as having been arguably the best team in the tournament. One area of improvement he admitted was the goal-kicking, with Leigh Halfpenny the frontrunner.

New France coach Phillipe Saint-AndrĂ© was up next with Dusautoir, with the French duo in good spirits. Dusautoir admitted that France “expect to win”, and that he was very excited about working with the former Sale Sharks Director of Rugby despite only having spent just over 48 hours together so far. Saint-AndrĂ© bemoaned the lack of preparation time available to France with a round of Top 14 matches this weekend, as well France’s current lack of options at 10 with many foreign players starting for clubs, including Jonny Wilkinson & Felipe Contepomi. He confirmed that Morgan Parra was no longer a starting option at fly-half, though he could possibly cover there if needs be. Ominously, France for the moment have no major injury concerns.

Italy also have a new coach in Jacques Brunel, who admitted that his previous stint in international rugby, as assistant coach to Bernard Laporte for six years, would stand him in good stead but also be a radically different experience to his time now with Italy. His ambition he stated was for people in a few years time to be considering Italy as contenders to win the title, focusing on the quality of the young talent coming through such as Angelo Esposito. For Sergio Parisse, the prospect of playing in the Stadio Olimpico, in front of a capacity of 75,000, was incredibly exciting.

Declan Kidney & Paul O’Connell appeared quietly confident, commenting on the positive of having their domestic sides in such good form in the Heineken Cup. Kidney emphasised the challenge ahead of bringing the players from Ulster, Leinster and Munster together as effectively as possible, saying that choosing the initial Six Nations squad had been a very difficult process. He was pleased with Rob Kearney’s good form for Leinster after struggling in 2011, and with Ronan O’Gara’s presence to continue challenging Johnny Sexton for the number 10 shirt. With Wales first up for Ireland, O’Connell commented that there was no bad blood between the two sides, but “a tough rivalry” after their recent encounters in last year’s Six Nations and at the Rugby World Cup.

Finally, Stuart Lancaster and “senior player” Tom Wood spoke positively about the first two days of England’s camp up at Leeds, stating that it was great to get everyone on the pitch together. Lancaster spoke with each player for 15 minutes on Monday, slightly longer with Chris Ashton after his recent off-field troubles, stating that it was important for him to get to know players that he had watched from afar but never had the chance to work with personally, such as Dylan Hartley. A decision on the captaincy will be announced on Monday, with England set to hear from a whole host of guest speakers over the next few days including Gary Neville, Hugh Morris and Kevin Sinfield.

When asked about the importance of results for the IRB rankings, which determine the pools for the next Rugby World Cup in 2015, Lancaster commented that the focus was on building foundations for the next four years, and that “the world rankings won’t determine who wins the next Rugby World Cup. It will be whichever side has the best foundations and framework in place. If you look ahead too much and don’t focus on the present, then you’re building on sand.” In 12 months time he wanted England to be regarded as a “humble, hungry and grafting side, with no accusations of arrogance levelled at them.” Courtney Lawes, Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi he confirmed would all miss the match against Scotland.

by Ben Coles

Photo by Michael Paler

11 thoughts on “Cautious optimism all round at RBS Six Nations launch

  1. Have to admit, didn’t really read the article took one look at the photo and immediately looked for the bit about Wood, why call him “senior player” surely this means he will be captain, no? Or at least the front runner? Bit weird to have a new captain that can’t play in the first match?

  2. This launch (however unimportant and irrelevant it is) has really pumped up the excitement for me. For the first time in a long time I think there are 4 teams who could very conceivably win. An impressive young Wales, an always powerful French team (now with a sane person at the helm), an experienced and angry Irish team out for World Cup Revenge and an ominously good looking English team. Along with an Italian team with some good recent performances under their belt and a forever building Scottish team who could both cause upsets I am beyond excitement. Just thought I’d share all that.

  3. I do fear for Wales a bit with the injuries starting to mount up. We have two world class props but not much depth in that position. With Gethin out the scrum might creak slightly. He’s also such an asset in open play, and no one who comes in to replace him will be able to replicate that. Priestland being out is also a big blow. I just hope that James Hook has settled into the number 10 shirt with a good run of games there for Perpignan. Having Leigh Halfpenny taking over the goal kicking duties might take a bit of pressure off him. Apparently Halfpenny was paracticing his penalties on Christmas day, that’s commitment! This will also be our first Six Nations without Shane. Among all the outpouring of emotion the fact was almost lost that we are going to miss him like hell in the Six Nations!

    Having said all of that we still have a good squad. I think if we win in Dublin and get some momentum back we will win the tournament, but if we lose and the confidence continues to ebb awaywe could really nose dive and finish as low as fourth.

  4. Have to say Wood looks the part.

    Really excited about the championship this year, think it will be wide open and full of suprises

  5. Do people think England or Wales have worse injury issues?

    Wales…..Jenkins, Alun Wyn, Charteris, Lydiate, Priestland.
    England….. Lawes, Wood, Flood, Manu and to a lesser extent Sheridan

    They do seem to consistently be the 2 teams most hit by injury.

    1. Difficult to compare really. Wales will suffer more than us for the Forward losses but we will feel the pain more in the backs.

      Although it is exciting that we are getting to blood a whole host of new players and we all know that this is going to very much be a work in progress, is anyone else a little bit afraid that we may end up picking up the wooden spoon?

      1. Yes, I am a little bit concerned.

        However, looking at the maturity players like Robshaw, Farrell and Barritt seem to bring to their performances for their various clubs, I hope its unlikely.

        In my dreams, I see our forwards standing up to all competition, our back row dominant at the breakdown, allowing Youngs to provide speedy ball that helps Charlie Hodgson to unleash a dangerous back three of Foden, Ashton and Sharples whilst Farrell calmly knocks over the penalties

        Like I said though, this is very much in my dreams

        Out of interest, who does everyone see as being England’s lock pairing now that Lawes is out – Palmer and Botha?

        1. You make it all sound so simple!

          Palmer, Botha, Lawes and Deacon are in the squad. Considering that Lawes and Deacon are injured (two from the saxons are covering i think) then it has to be a Palmer and Botha 2nd row to start right? Lancaster may be considering Croft as bench cover as well.

  6. The Welsh scrum shouldn’t suffer too much with Jenkins out but we will miss him in the loose. We could compensate for this with a scavenging and balanced back-row but Lydiate is also a doubt .

    Personally I think Priestland would be the biggest loss as it looks like Jamie Roberts will make it and with BOD out Priestland was largely instrumental in bringing Wales big runners into the game at the World Cup and the centre uncertanties for Ireland are something that could be exploited .If he is out the cover is Hook with a bit to prove and (gulp) Henson in which case they need to get a Polish plane ticket to Stephen Jones pronto.

    Probably more than average uncertaintity about this years tournament with new coaches World Cup grudge re-matches player retirements etc roll on the start anyway pity Wales’ first two games are on Sundays though -what happened to the recovery day ? .

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