The 2022 Guinness Six Nations officially launched today as anticipation builds ahead of what promises to be a fascinating Championship getting underway in ten days’ time.
The head coach and a player from each of the six nations gathered for a virtual launch to share their thoughts on the 2022 Championship with the world’s media.
There were injury updates, line-up hints and every team giving a snippet of what to expect over the next few months.
It all kicks off with reigning champions Wales travelling to Dublin on Saturday February 5, while Scotland host England and France play Italy in the other Round 1 matches.
Biggar and Sexton joke about captaincy style
Speaking during the morning session on the virtual main stage, fly-half Dan Biggar – who will captain Wales for the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, with usual skipper Alun Wyn Jones out injured – is eager to build early momentum in their title defence.
“It’s a really tough start with the form that Ireland showed in autumn and how impressive Ireland are,” said Biggar. “We know how tough going to Dublin is, we’ve not had much success there in the last few years.
“This Championship hinges on momentum – if you get off to a good start, things flow and things get easier. It’s important for a good start – an away win on the first weekend sets you up nicely.
“The opening couple of weekends are pivotal to how the campaign will go for you.”
Ahead of the launch, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton had joked that with Biggar appointed as Wales skipper for the Championship, he’s “not sure the refs are going to be too happy having to deal with me and him!”
READ: He’ll be good for them – Sexton gives thoughts on Biggar captaincy
The frivolities continued on the main stage at the launch, with Sexton complimenting the choice of Biggar as captain and going on to say: “I got to know Dan on the Lions tour [in 2013] and we stayed in touch since.
“He’ll do well as captain for Wales. Obviously he’s known for sometimes getting at the ref but now he’s captain I’m sure he’ll be cool, calm and collected, just like I am!”
That prompted laughter from the assembled skippers and vice-skippers, with Biggar responding: “I agree with what Johnny said and hopefully Jaco [Peyper – referee for the Round 1 clash between Ireland and Wales] will get out unscathed!”
For their part, Ireland are one of the form teams in world rugby, impressing as they won every game during the Autumn Nations Series and taking an eight-Test winning streak into the Championship.
There is talk of a first Guinness Six Nations title in four years but head coach Andy Farrell acknowledges his side will need to take another step forward to reach their goals.
“We will see if we have the courage to kick on and get better because that is what is going to be needed,” he told the world’s media.
“We want to be living on the edge of where we are at and keep pushing the boundaries to get better. If we have a single focus then, as the saying goes, the scores will take care of themselves.”
Farrell ruled out for the Championship as Calcutta Cup captures the imagination
The Calcutta Cup is always a special way to start the Championship and with Scotland looking to defend the trophy that they captured with their historic victory over England at Twickenham 12 months ago, skipper Stuart Hogg is relishing the Round 1 rematch at BT Murrayfield.
“It’s the best opportunity to kick off the Six Nations by playing England at home,” he said. “We love that game.
“As a proud Scotsman, and I think I speak on behalf of all of us, playing England in Edinburgh is the game we always look forward to. Then we’re off to Cardiff the week after, so it doesn’t get any easier.”
READ: Introducing Scotland’s five uncapped players
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend concurred with the sentiment of his skipper surrounding the enormity of the opening contest.
“We know this is the biggest game we face, such an historic game,” said Townsend. “We play for an historic trophy and it’s 151 years old now this fixture. Having it first up adds a buzz around the Six Nations.”
On the day of the launch, it was confirmed that England captain Owen Farrell will miss the entirety of the Championship due to the ankle injury he suffered in training for Saracens.
But Hogg conceded that the auld enemy won’t miss a beat with talented young fly-half Marcus Smith donning the No.10 jersey, even without Farrell outside him.
“I think he’s an exciting talent, a really exciting talent,” said Hogg of Smith. “We [Exeter Chiefs] played against him a few weeks ago and at times he was winding me up with his eyes and hand signals of what he was going to be doing.
“He was putting me left, right and Chelsea, so I didn’t know what he was going to be doing! He’s a quality player and no doubt he’ll have a big impact on how England do in this campaign.”
With the presumptive 10-12 axis of Smith and Farrell now no longer an option, England coach Eddie Jones will need to have a rethink and he gave a hint as to his potential plans, by suggesting he could move Henry Slade inside from No.13.
“We’ve got other experienced players and we may move Sladey (Henry Slade) in from 13 to 12,” explained Jones.
“It’s important for any 10 in the world whether that’s Smith, whether that’s Finn Russell or Ntamack for France, it’s important that the 12 is a good communicator and takes some of the pressure away from the 10, as well as giving good information and assisting in the defence role.”
Galthie outlines Les Bleus Championship aim, while Azzurri reaping benefits of Garbisi Montpellier move
Expectations for France are high after they too notched a 100 per cent record during the Autumn Nations Series and have finished as runners-up in the past two Championships.
READ: New faces emerge as France kick off preparations
A tilt at the title in 2022 would appear to be a realistic aim and while he wasn’t getting ahead of himself, head coach Fabien Galthié wasn’t shy in admitting that is the goal for Les Bleus.
“Yes, this Championship is always very difficult because every team has great potential to win and every game is different and unique,” said Galthié.
“They have different strategies and tactics. Our ambition is to win our games and win the competition. Our ambition has remained the same and we have learned a lot from all these experiences.”
France open up against Italy in Round 1, for whom Kieran Crowley heads into his first Guinness Six Nations as head coach.
The Azzurri’s talisman is undoubtedly fly-half Paolo Garbisi and Crowley acknowledges that his young No.10 has hugely benefitted from a move to French Top 14 side Montpellier at club level.
“On Paolo, I think it was great that he’s gone to Montpellier,” said Crowley. “It’s given him a different culture and way to play the game.
“The way Montpellier play is different to the way he used to play in Benetton. Montpellier have a no-risk policy, if you watch their games, they have a massive forward pack, they kick a lot for territory.
“So he has progressed and learned to play the game in a different way. His challenge, because he’s still only a young man, will be to adapt to different styles of play. We will play different to how Benetton played and how Montpellier play.”