The Guinness Six Nations launch day in London ended up as every rugby event should – often stuffily guarded team talk eventually giving way to far looser lips and lashings of the tournament’s ever-popular black stuff. 

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With the great and the good of the six competing nations having been and gone – some heading home; others, such as Ireland and England, off to sunnier climes in Portugal for some warm weather prep – the pods were in the house with the pints on tap.

There was our old favourite, The Rugby Pod featuring Goodie and Jim, giving it socks to Flats and Shanks along with the Try Hards, fun of the fair that had Wayne Barnes – yes, the Test match referee –  trying to keep the shenanigans all above board at the sold-out 90-minute show.

It was sweetness and light in contrast to the day’s more formal earlier proceedings. The Wapping Tobacco Dock is a rough and ready exhibition space shoehorned into a grade one listed warehouse in east London. 

A far cry from the gentile exclusivity of the posh Fulham Hurlingham Club where the event had nearly always annually taken place, stretching back to when icons such as Brian O’Driscoll were first on the prowl.  

(Continue reading below…)

Eddie Jones insists the Saracens scandal could be beneficial to England

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From SW6 to E1W, then, and the new location aside, Wednesday morning represented a widespread changing of the guard from what we had known in recent times. 

Four new head coaches. Four new captains. Recognisable faces but an unrecognisable workload for them as they worked their way through a mountain of questions and answers in the various media rotations.

Radio and podcasts, dailies and Sundays, photography, host broadcasters, other broadcasters, online and social… all with little or no pause. Not even family ties could intervene much. 

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“I spoke to him,” quipped new Ireland boss Andy Farrell when asked late in the schedule whether he had managed to catch up with his son, England captain Owen. “I have just had a protein bowl with him and a coffee in the green room out the back.” How very reassuring.

Despite the eight newcomers to the usual twelve-strong coach and captain fold, the national narratives were mostly cosily familiar, mostly stuff everyone has heard all before. 

It’s routine at this stage in January to hear an update on a Johnny Sexton injury, to learn that Gregor Townsend’s glass is its usual half-full, to throw the eyes up at the French espousing their customary desire for a new dawn, to shake the head as the Italians ponder how to somehow get better, and to admire the colossus that is simply Alun Wyn Jones, reverential and calculating all in the same breath on an occasion where he had a fresh sidekick in Wayne Pivac.

So many words were carefully chosen. Less so the sartorial look. Pivac opted for a red tie when black was in vogue. Meanwhile, Fabien Galthie attempted to replicate the Agustin Pichot style, casual white runner-type-shoes going against the grain of a spick and span dark suit. French inconsistency? You bet.

Then there was England and the awkward elephant in the room. Allianz Park may be more than an hour away by public transport from Shadwell, but that distance was never going to be enough to inoculate Eddie Jones and captain Farrell from the biggest story of the Premiership era – the automatic relegation of Saracens. 

“Portuguese beer will help,” chirped the tieless Jones, his overcoat already on and his hands fidgety as he addressed the story of the day, the month and the year one final time while he completed his last media rotation before heading for the exit. 

Only 81 days had passed since England had given second best in the World Cup final to South Africa, yet here was the coach being asked how he could fix a squad’s morale bruised and broken by salary cap revelations that have left the defending league champions unanimously labelled as cheats.  

It will be a matter of just getting the issues on the table, having a good chat and then just spending time with each other. Time is a big thing,” Jones hoped. “We will be honest and upfront about it and we will come through it and get on with what’s in front of us,” chipped in Farrell.

All very convincing but very unconvincing at the same time. A bit like the women’s game. Their coaches and captains were at the Tobacco as well, shooting the breeze but without the same level of audience that had lapped up every nuance of the men’s preview. 

Six Nations. Two tournaments. One main topic of discussion. This Saracens saga is only going to run and run and run. Just like the pints on tap when the pods were later in the house. 

WATCH: Andy Goode and Brendan Venter didn’t hold back on this week’s The Rugby Pod as they discussed Saracens and the salary cap scandal

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