John Burke reports on the official kicking-off of this year’s NatWest Six Nations Championship and what to expect throughout the tournament
As preparations get underway for the opening weekend of the 2018 NatWest Six Nations, team captains and coaches took time out from the pitch to kick off a busy period for Europe’s top rugby nations.
Ireland captain Rory Best, along with head-coach Joe Schmidt, flew in from Ireland’s training camp in Oliva Nova, Spain, to attend the tournament launch.
Rory Best was as calm and modest as ever in his interview in Syon Park, London, and was positive about the decision for this change in scenery: “Spain is really about relaxing and after coming off the back of seven very tough games in a row. For all provinces in the European Cup and the Pro14, it’s about getting away somewhere a bit different to recharge the batteries for the tournament”.
“It’s going to be a mixed bag for us in the first game”
Wales will host Scotland in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium for the tournament’s curtain raiser this Saturday, February 3rd. Wales are formidable at home and it’s difficult to know how well they will do playing away from home. In addition, they are stricken with difficulties as seven of their starting 15 are out with injury for the tournament.
Scotland will be hoping to build on an impressive autumn series that showed they have the potential to compete with anyone in the world. Stuart Hogg will be hoping to add some championship silverware to his two previous Player of the Tournament awards in this year’s tournament.
Ireland will begin their Six Nations campaign against an unpredictable French side in the Stade de France. According to Best, the first game in Paris is the primary focus of the team and they’re not looking further beyond that. “It’s going to be a mixed bag for us in the first game”, he said.
France have bolstered their backroom team ahead of the tournament by recruiting Jacques Brunel as the new head coach in a bid to find a run of form in the wake of a disappointing autumn series. However, with four French teams still remaining in the Champions Cup, disregard the French at your peril.
England once again enter the tournaments as the bookmaker’s favourite and will come up against Conor O’Shea’s Italian side. England will hope to set an early marker on the opening weekend as they are the biggest obstacle facing any team looking to win this year’s tournament.
Italy will also be looking to build on last year’s tournament but will always struggle to compete against the other teams in this tournament due to the lack of resources and players they have compared to their competing nations.
Best concluded: “At the end of the day this is where you want to be playing against the best players in one of the best rugby tournaments in the world”.