The coaches and captains from the senior men’s and women’s sides met with the rugby media on Wednesday to launch “Rugby’s Greatest Championship” at Tobacco Dock in London ahead of the tournament starting on the 1st of February.
Having initially turned up far too early (I reached my destination at 7:50am, press were requested to arrive at 8:30am), once inside we were handed a press pack featuring enough stats to send Kevin Millar into a state of catatonic bliss.
When it was the Scottish representative’s turn to be grilled, head coach Gregor Townsend seemed in good spirits, with a cheery “Hello, everyone. Who’s going to go first?”
After fielding an inevitable question regarding the World Cup, the familiar talk of lessons being learned was wheeled out. We’ve dissected that debacle enough, so let’s skip that bit and get to the task at hand. Here is the pick of what Gregor had to say:
“We’ve had three and a half months to think about it, to plan and to make sure that during this Six Nations, we play closer to our potential. That’s the goal of us as coaches and also the players.
“Your next game is your most important game. We feel very privileged to be involved and represent our countries, so you give your best, and that’s the same every tournament you play in.”
Of the participating sides, only Scotland and England have retained their coaches from the last instalment, Townsend had only praise for the Six Nations’ virgins, and dismissed the notion that the continuity would help his side.
“I don’t think it’s an advantage. You’re coaching the team doing your job, and the other coaches will do their job. A lot of those coaches already know international rugby.
“We’ve also made changes in our coaching group, we’ve a new defence coach and a new scrum coach. To me, obviously, we think it’s going to bring positives to our team, but it’s what you do over the next 6-7 weeks to show that’s the case.”
“Obviously we’ve come up against Andy (Farrell) as defence coach for Ireland over the last few years, and he’s been with the British & Irish Lions, so he’s an excellent coach.
“Wayne, I’ve coached against him with the Scarlets in Glasgow. Scarlets produced an excellent brand of rugby which was a lot about the decision making of the players. Working to play off quick ball, working together to get the ball back in defence and they went on to win the Pro12 that year.
“Franco, I know very well. We’ve coached against each other, with Glasgow and Treviso. We’ve kept in contact over the last few years, and he’s coached at international level with the Springboks, so it’s great to see him involved in a Six Nations.
“Fabien, I’ve played against him, but I don’t think I’ve coached against him. I was his half-back partner in his last ever game of rugby. (French Barbarians v Australia)
“He’s a coach that’s got a lot of experience, with Montpellier, Toulon and now with France, and I thought the job that the French coaching team did at the World Cup, with that performance against Wales, even though they didn’t win the game, it was one of the stand-out performances of the tournament.
“There’s great coaches, great players and great teams in this tournament.”
Which segues conveniently onto the narrative of Scotland’s inability to win away from home.
“The teams are very good, and they have excellent home records. Ireland have lost one game at home in the Championship in the last five years, so that just shows you how difficult it is for any team to win away from home.
“You have to be at your very best, you have to stay in the fight. You can’t give the opposition easy points. You can’t get the crowd even more energised in the first five minutes of the game, and we’ve got to be better. We know that.
“Starting with an away game this year, even though it’s a really tough challenge, is the best preparation for us, to see where we are.”
Newly appointed full-time captain Stuart Hogg, echoed the
sentiments of his coach about the opening fixture.
“For us to go to Dublin and start the campaign in the best possible way it’s going to take a huge 80-minute performance. We’ve talked over the last couple of days about learning from mistakes and not beating ourselves.
“We need to be clinical in our attack and make the most of every opportunity we’re given; we might get three or four, we might get seven or eight.
“Defensively, we have to shut them down. We can’t allow the likes of Jordan Larmour or Johnny Sexton to get into the game, make sure they’re as quiet as possible.
“I think it’s a perfect opportunity to concentrate on ourselves, make sure we get our attack spot-on, make sure we front-up in defence. And enjoy the challenge. There’s no better feeling than winning in a Scotland jersey, and come a week on Saturday, we’ll be ready to fire into them.”