ONCE again the tournament was launched at the Hurlingham Club (annual membership approx £20,000) in West London which is about as la-di-da as you can get.
Shift any further upmarket, and you bump into Buckingham Palace, which would at least offer some novel photo-ops.
They did unveil a brand new six-sided Six Nations trophy. It turns out that the old one was remaindered goods from the Five Nations era, so not entirely appropriate. Moreover, it was privately owned, according to one reliable source, leased back to the championship committee and liable to be pawned off if times got tough.
There was a familiar voice as compere. Andrew Cotter is a highly accomplished commentator on all sorts of sports, including rugby, but its fair to say that his stint yesterday hosting this Six Nations’ launch was a little rough around the edges.
Welcoming Scotland’s own Kiwi coach to his inaugural tournament, Cotter on Cotter turned out to be a little less than fraternal.
“Another coach from New Zealand… we don’t have enough of them.” Three of the six competing countries boast a Kiwi coach – perhaps Cotter (Andrew) feels that this too many?
We had the usual corporate mumble from sponsors RBS and the usual homilies from the Six Nations chairman Bill Beaumont. Then Cotter exchanged pleasantries with the assembled team captains. “Six enormous men on very small stools is never not funny” is how he introduced them. Well, I laughed.
Paul O’Connell insisted that Ireland were looking no further than Italy. Sergio Parisse insisted that Italy were happy to have three games in Rome, Sam Warburton enjoys Friday night games because of the added atmosphere and Chris Robshaw has confidence in the England squad, despite all their injuries.
Revelatory it wasn’t but, thankfully, the various coaches and captains were a little more forthcoming when the press were split into smaller, more manageable groups.
Wales’ Warren Gatland said that, if Scotland finished in third place, they would consider it a “great tournament”. And so they will if that third place is achieved with three victories. Gatland’s French counterpart Philippe Saint-André revealed that he thought any one of four countries could triumph this season and there are no prizes on offer for guessing which two nations were out of his reckoning. Scotland’s coach may have agreed with PSA but he was too diplomatic to say so.
“Glasgow are well coached and running a good organisation,” said Cotter when quizzed on Scotland’s chances. “Edinburgh’s game has changed as well and they are doing well, which is positive and good to see. The key thing is to ask questions of yourselves. The key sign is that Scottish rugby is moving forward at all levels. These guys are really proud of representing Scotland and, if people can see that themselves, that encourages them to take up the sport.”
Cotter revealed that he has a meeting with the SRU board this later this week to determine the fate of the two international players who were not included in his original Six Nations squad thanks to having a previous appointment with the Sheriff Court in Glasgow. The case against Ryan Grant was not proven. so he may be whistled up immediately but it would be amazing if Murrayfield okayed a swift return to international duty for Ryan Wilson having only just suspended him after the Warriors breakaway was found guilty of punching Glasgow Hawks’ Ally McLay and ordered to do community service.
The coach was also hopeful that Stuart Hogg would fill the No 15 shirt in Paris but he hinted that, should his hamstring problem keep the full-back sidelined, a replacement would come from the current squad. Tommy Seymour was mentioned.
“They all come from within the playing group,” Cotter said of his options. “They are working hard and they know this will be a tough Six Nations. Everybody is looking forward to that because it will give us an idea of where we are at. Give us an opportunity to benchmark a few things and then move forward. There were some good things in the autumn. I was really pleased with how the guys played. Their attitude on the paddock, their positive attitude to take the ball and to score points and enjoy it.
“We want to try to do the same thing but this is a different competition and we may look at different options tactically and develop those. I was very happy with the Tongan game when we had to change tactics at half-time. It will be a tough Six Nations, especially with a tough first game against France.”
Cotter once again defended his decision to select Kiwi Hugh Blake in the national squad and revealed that the young flanker has beaten everyone else in the “beep test” of fitness. The coach also insisted that the young contender considered himself Scottish rather than a New Zealander and, if he helps Scotland to a win in Paris next week, everyone else will doubtless do the same.
The Kiwi coach has an excellent record with Scotland after winning five of his opening sevens Tests with the only two defeats to date coming at the hands of South Africa and New Zealand. However, Scotland have often flattered in the friendlies only to come spectacularly unstuck when the business end of the season hoves into view.
“One of the really strong characteristics of Scottish people is that they are grounded,” Cotter argued. “False dawns are things that have been written up in the media. We know that the Six Nations is tough, that it will be a battle, but we are looking forward to the games, especially the ones at home.
“We will embrace the difficulties this competition provides. it will give us opportunities to move forward. We are looking to build strong foundations and have standards within the group that will keep us through good times and bad times.”
Sitting beside his coach, Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw had mostly kept his thoughts to himself and, when he was given an opportunity to soapbox, he insisted that the time for talking was fast coming to a close.
“We have spoken enough about it and as players we just want to get on with the job in hand,” said the little Jed man, who always seems more comfortable doing his talking on the field. “It has to be about deeds. It is not about us talking about it. It is about getting out there, playing for the boy that is next to you in a Scotland jersey and rolling up our sleeves and putting our bodies on the line.”
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