KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
RBS SIX NATIONS
February 2017 sees the return of the RBS Six Nations, with Eddie Jones’ England looking to follow up on their Grand Slam victory in 2016.
Scotland and Ireland kick off proceedings at Murrayfield before England open against France at Twickenham. Wales then travel to Italy for their opening match, with interim coach Rob Hawley taking charge after Warren Gatland’s appointment as British & Irish Lions coach for the summer tour to New Zealand.
England go into the tournament in fine form following their series win in Australia, where they beat the Aussies on three occasions in their own backyard. Alongside the 2016 Six Nations win and first Grand Slam title in 13 years, winning a test series in Australia for the very first time and consigning Australia to their first series whitewash since 1971 highlights how the team has advanced since the disappointment of the World Cup.
Eddie Jones has established a well organised, youthful and exciting squad, marshalled by captain Dylan Hartley, that has the potential to achieve great things in the coming years. With the likes of Maro Itoje and George Kruis leading the pack, along with Owen Farrell and George Ford pulling the strings in the midfield, these are exciting times for English rugby fans.
Under Joe Schmidt, Ireland are a formidable outfit and, with two Six Nations wins in a row before the last tournament, they are a team that knows what it takes to win over the course of the five matches. Much like England, Ireland benefit from a strong, young side with the likes of flanker CJ Stander, loosehead Jack McGrath and No.9 Connor Murray being players to look out for in the 2017 tournament.
Scotland are another nation progressing well under the leadership of New Zealand born coach Vern Cotter. Having formed a side which plays with real intensity, they are set to test a number of the sides in the forthcoming tournament, and could be an outside bet to do well. Player of the 2016 Championship, Stuart Hogg, is a real star at fullback whilst open-side flanker John Hardie is a tough tackler who makes a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and can cause real problems for the opposition.
The Welsh will have to adapt to being without the coach who has led them to so much success over recent years. It will be interesting to see how they perform, but with players such as winger George North and kicker Dan Biggar in your side, points are always going to be scored.
There were encouraging signs for the French team at the start of the 2016 Six Nations as Guy Novès, their newly appointed coach, led them to two wins against Italy and Ireland, yet they went on to lose their final three fixtures and finish second bottom of the standings. Having now had more time to work with the team, France are likely to be a stronger, more resilient outfit in 2017, particularly when playing away from the Stade de France.
Having taken home the wooden spoon in 2016, Italy will be looking to move forward from a disappointing tournament where they were beaten in all five of their matches. Now under the stewardship of former Ireland international and Harlequins coach Conor O’Shea, the Azzurri are likely to be a more challenging opposition this time around, especially when playing in front of their own fans at the Stadio Olimpico.
With the 2017 RBS Six Nations set to be a real spectacle, businesses can jump on the rugby bandwagon by booking Six Nation winning players and coaches to motivate, inspire and engage audiences with anecdotes from their time in the professional arena.
Champions Speakers have a multitude of rugby stars available to book for engagements, including former England international Neil Back MBE, Welsh wizard Shane Williams MBE and legendary Irish fullback Geordan Murphy to name but a few. Audiences can get a true understanding of the rivalry between the nations as well as a feel for what it is like to play in the cauldrons of noise created by fans during the Six Nations from players who experienced such occasions.
As England look to achieve back-to-back Grand Slam victories, only time will tell as to who comes out on top, but one thing is for sure— it will be a rollercoaster ride for all involved, with plenty of ups and downs for players, coaches and fans before the trophy is presented and the competition concludes on March 18th.