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-André 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-André 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