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FEATURE Nine reasons to be thankful for the Six Nations

Nine reasons to be thankful for the Six Nations
4 months ago

The build-up to this Six Nations has centred as much around who isn’t involved as who is.

Antoine Dupont’s sevens sabbatical, Louis Rees-Zammit’s punt on NFL and now Marcus Smith’s misbehaving calf has robbed the championship kick-off of some of its stardust following the inevitable list of post-World Cup retirees.

It is not that rugby fans aren’t looking forward to the Six Nations still – this is the annual slayer of winter we are talking about after all – it is just that some shine has gone from the bauble.

Come now. Chins up. Duster and polish out. There are still plenty of reasons to be thankful for what we are about to receive. Here are nine of them.

1 – Finn Russell being Finn Russell. 

It is one of the great joys of rugby – any sport actually – to watch Russell run through his illusionist’s repertoire.

The chameleon vision, the blurring sleight of hand and the array of kicking options combines for a spellbinding act. Most importantly of all, he has the conviction to keep on backing himself even when the saw-the-lady-in-half trick ends up in a trip to A and E.

Finn Russell
Russell’s off-load to set up Kyle Steyn for a try against Wales last year was one of many highlights (Photo Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Scotland’s box-office No. 10 delivers a memory to take home from every game. For a stop-the-clocks moment you would be hard-pressed to beat the pass on his own ‘22’ to Huw Jones which set up Sean Maitland for a spectacular breakout try and Scotland for their 2018 win over England, but you can guarantee there will be something from Russell to treasure in Cardiff this weekend.

2 – Care in the community

If Russell is the self-styled Lionel Messi of rugby, Danny Care is its Cristiano Ronaldo – resolutely refusing to hang up his boots.

There are no thoughts of Test retirement – even at the age of 37 – for the venerable England scrum-half.

With change aplenty elsewhere in the team, his presence in the squad is good news for an evolving side.

Danny Care
Care could reach a century of Tests for England during this year’s championship (Photo Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Even if he has lost some of the zip of his youth, Care still has something to offer in what will be his 17th year of international rugby.

He needs four more caps to reach his century. If all goes to plan that landmark will be celebrated at Twickenham against Ireland on 9 March.

3 – Creche captaincy

There is a fresh feel to the championship’s captains’ ranks with Italy’s Michaele Lamaro the only continuity candidate from last season.

While most nations have gone with experience for their new leader, Wales have turned to a player who is younger than the Six Nations itself. Comfortably so.

Dafydd Jenkins
Jenkins will be the second youngest player to lead Wales behind the great Gareth Edwards (Photo Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Having just turned 21 in December, Dafydd Jenkins is confirmed Gen Z.

There are shades of Sam Warburton in this appointment. Wales can only hope this investment in youth goes as well.

4 – Ak attack

As an embodiment of rugby’s warrior spirit, Bundee Aki is the Six Nations poster boy.

To say he is a presence on the pitch for Ireland is a gross understatement. If he gets any wider, the IRFU may have to widen the tunnel at the Aviva.

Bundee Aki
Aki enjoyed a superb World Cup for Ireland, terrorising defences with his ball-carrying (Photo Christian Liewig/Corbis via Getty Images)

With his Popeye muscles, he is easy to pigeonhole as a midfield terminator doling out the smoking hits but there is a lot more to Aki than that.

Utterly brilliant at the World Cup with and without the ball, he will be central to Ireland’s hopes of a successful title defence.

5 – La Marseillaise in Marseille

France taking their show on the road this season while the Stade de France is being prepared for Olympic duties this summer adds a different dimension.

While a temporary return to the Parc des Princes would have won the nostalgia vote, rekindling memories of Jean-Pierre Rives, Serge Blanco and combustible French front rows of yesteryear, the stop-offs in Marseille, Lille and Lyon will be fun. They were all atmospheric World Cup venues.

France fans
The Stade de Velodrome in Marseille was in full voice for France’s RWC match against Namibia (Photo Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)

Stade Velodrome, for Friday night’s heavyweight contest with Ireland, will set a pulsating tone.

6 – Jamie George’s chat

There are no guarantees that England’s new captain can usher in a more successful Six Nations era on the pitch but off it he will be a PR dream.

Where Owen Farrell blocked questions resolutely, marking his territory as the Geoff Boycott of the rugby interview, leaving not a glimmer between bad and pad, George will be instinctively much more open.

Jamie George
George is a more natural communicator than his predecessor as England captain (Photo Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

His approach will come as a breath of fresh air to his post-match interlocutors and to the majority of England fans too.

The Farrell/Borthwick combination could be a double blank on the communications domino.

George will at least talk a good game for England.

7 – Shaun Edwards’s thunder face

Most people need to show emotion to convey menace, Edwards is one of the few for whom less is most definitely more.

There are no public histrionics from France’s defence coach, no table-banging, no frothing at the mouth but behind the death mask you can almost hear the simmering.

Shaun Edwards
Edwards is a renowned task-master who has given France’s defence greater resolve (Photo Warren Little/Getty Images)

On game day, he resembles a murderous baked potato.

Edwards is 57 years old and has a dodgy knee but if any of France’s players aren’t inwardly terrified of him, there must be something wrong with them.

8 – Rob Howley resurrected

You would need to be particularly hard of heart not to be pleased to see Howley back with Wales.

He has made his mistakes, yes – 363 of them – but he has paid his dues. He has served his time in exile after his gambling issues.

Rob Howley
Warren Gatland has restored Howley to his coaching team after his abrupt departure in 2019 (Photo David Rogers – The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Warren Gatland, let down by Howley’s chastened departure from the 2019 World Cup, has given him a second chance as part of his coaching team.

It is a generous gesture but Gatland would not have made it if he did not rate Howley – his Lions attack coach – so highly.

9 – Italy’s tasty new coach

The latest incumbent saddled with the impossible job is Gonzalo Quesada.

After eight successive wooden spoons, even a fifth-place finish would represent the sweetest of starts for Italy’s pragmatic new head coach. It’s unlikely though.

Whichever way the cookie crumbles, Quesada – whose surname translates as cheesecake – will continue the championship’s proud association with good cuisine.

Gonzalo Quesada
Can Italy under Quesada avoid finishing with the wooden spoon for the first time since 2015? (Photo Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

From England’s Curry twins to France’s back row Loann Goujon and back in time to the fishy Scots David Sole and Jim Pollock, there has always been a place – or should that be plaice – for fine dining at northern hemisphere rugby’s top table.

You might even like to throw Willi Heinz into the pot for some variety.

There’s plenty there to enjoy in this season’s Six Nations. So let’s look forward, not back and prepare for seven weeks to savour.

Whatever the cast list, when does the championship ever let us down?


1 Comment
Pecos 137 days ago

Given that the four Home Unions have only won SIXTEEN test matches against the All Blacks from a combined total of 150 tests played, what’s the point again?

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