Talking points from the Six Nations launch

Date published: January 26 2017

The annual event at the Hurlingham Club never fails to throw up numerous of points of discussion. Here are the picks from Wednesday.

Italy deserve their place

Conor O’Shea’s bullish defence of Italy’s place in the Six Nations was a sharp contrast to the more subdued messages from Jacques Brunel in recent times.

O’Shea’s message was clear; Italy deserve to be in this tournament and this year will be about earning people’s respect, which the Azzurri did to an extent after defeating South Africa.

“Italy have earned their right to be in the Six Nations, and if there are changes to the rules in years down the line that will be for other people to discuss,” said O’Shea. “Our job is to look after ourselves right now.

“If ever promotion and relegation were the case, who knows who would be at the bottom by the time that comes? If we get our system right and look after ourselves then we don’t have to have those conversations.

“Italy has absolutely earned the right, god knows I played against enough Italian sides and was on the wrong end.

“We just have to make sure we harness what is great and make sure we don’t have those conversations because Italy has earned every single right to be part of the Six Nations. We just want to earn people’s respect this year, and see where that takes us.”

A relaxed Alun Wyn Jones

The Wales captaincy is not a new experience for Alun Wyn Jones but Wednesday was a new experience when he attended the annual Six Nations media launch for the first time.

One of the favourites for the British and Irish Lions captaincy has been in fine form this season, captaining the Ospreys to first place in the PRO12.

Wales players and supporters admire Jones because he exudes confidence, and that was again the case on Wednesday when he seemed relaxed discussing his new role.

“In a way the captaincy is just a label, but I’m ready and able to make decisions as captain when needed,” said Jones.

“But if we can grow more leaders in the team that we have, if we can get to the point where we’re making similar decisions without having to consult with each other, that’s a case of job-done, let’s move onto the next challenge as a group and a team.

“I don’t want followers: followers are for Twitter.”

Hartley feared he had jeopardised the captaincy

Much like last year’s launch shortly after he was confirmed as England captain by Eddie Jones, one year on Dylan Hartley came across initially as a little prickly at the same event over questions of his fitness and recent suspension.

Yet there were glimpses behind the exterior when talking to reporters about the work he has been doing during the six weeks since he was banned for striking.

“With my tackle technique, I have been working very hard on that with Paul Gustard. We always want to tackle low but there are times when you come in as the second man where low isn’t the option,” he explained.

“For me it’s about my arms, bringing them tighter to my body and following through my shoulder. We have to adapt as players with the sanctions changing.”

Then there was prospect of being dropped as captain altogether by Jones after another suspension. “Of course” was the answer to a question about whether he felt he had put captaincy in jeopardy.

“This group is an aspirational place to be. To be part of that is a privilege.”

Humble Scotland?

The fact that it doesn’t seems strange to suggest Scotland might be outside contenders to win the Six Nations shows how far they have come in recent months under Vern Cotter, combined with the progress made by Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

Cotter’s effort to dampen any suggestions that his side are contenders was therefore somewhat of a disappointment.

“Are we contenders? I don’t think it’s the type of thing we would say in Scotland. It’s a humble group who want to work hard and do well.”

Here’s what Scotland have going for them; an excellent set-piece, even without WP Nel, one of the form locks in the world in Jonny Gray, a back row that can compete at the breakdown, a points machine in Greig Laidlaw and in-form attackers with Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Mark Bennett.

What’s missing is confidence. A Scottish upset of Ireland before travelling to Paris might lead to more of that being expressed publicly. Scotland though need to be bullish.

France’s “killer instinct”

The message from Guy Novès couldn’t be clearer; France must start finishing off their chances if they want to win matches. It hurt them against Australia and New Zealand in November and also in last year’s Six Nations.

“We are not that far off, but now we have to be more efficent. Statistically we are one of the best teams for crossing the advantage line, but we don’t score or convert.

“We have to reverse that ratio so we can win.”

Novès did his best to play down Wesley Fofana’s injury – the Clermont centre is set for a long time out after an Achilles injury – but the fact is that by importing the Clermont triumvirate of Camille Lopez, Fofana and Rémi Lamerat, France had a potent trio who have been scoring tries for fun in the Top 14 and Europe this season.

Getting the balance right with Fofana gone, and deciding whether Lamerat wears 12 or 13, are in all likelihood top if his agenda. Fofana’s absence though leaves us already wondering what might have been.

Schmidt’s high praise for England

With positive news on the fitness front regarding Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien, questions to Joe Schmidt naturally focused on the tag of Six Nations favourites, with the 2017 tournament being viewed as a two-horse race between Ireland and England.

Given Ireland’s form in November it might come as a surprise to remember they finished third last year after back-to-back titles, although injuries certainly crippled their forward pack.

Schmidt however had nothing but high praise for England, who remain unbeaten under Eddie Jones.

“Obviously, England are at the top of the pile. Over the last 14 or 15 months, they have been indomitable.

“They really have been impressive. To go to Australia and get those three results was exceptional and, obviously, they got the Grand Slam.”

Behind the scenes, knowing how Schmidt works, tape of England’s recent victories will have been pored over by one of the best tactical coaches out there. His message will likely have a different tone come the final week of the competition.

What happened to Eddie?

Gossip about the large bandage and cuts to the face of Eddie Jones wasn’t in short supply throughout the event. Had he slipped on the ice at the Hurlingham Club? Or was it a result of another England training session channelling judo or MMA?

Jones was happy to reveal the answer, revealing he slipped in his bathroom at the Chelsea Harbour Hotel where he had been staying.

“My mother always told me I had to shave, I walked out of the shower, forgot to shave and this is what happens,” he quipped.

“I’ll be alright mate, I’ll be at training on Thursday ready to go.”

by Ben Coles