Great Coaches of the Six Nations era

Over the 20 years since Italy joined the Championship, the Guinness Six Nations has provided countless magical moments, stunning tries and special players.

Over the 20 years since Italy joined the Championship, the Guinness Six Nations has provided countless magical moments, stunning tries and special players.

And as we head into the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on those players and coaches who have had the biggest impact on the last two decades.

In the build-up to the opening match between Grand Slam champions Wales and Italy, we are counting down some of the greats to have graced the Championship and today it’s the turn of the coaches.

Warren Gatland (WALES)

Three Grand Slam titles across a 12-year Wales tenure tells you all you need to know about the impact Warren Gatland has had on the Championship.

His maiden success in 2008 saw Gatland coach a fierce defensive unit as Wales conceded just two tries across the Championship.

It would be four years before Gatland and Wales tasted Six Nations glory again when in 2012 they edged out England en route to the Grand Slam.

They went on to thrash their old rivals 30-3 in the final game of their campaign a year later to retrain the title before Gatland claimed his third Grand Slam in 2019 to bow out in style.

Declan Kidney (IRELAND)

Every Championship is emotional, but few are as special as 2009 when Declan Kidney led Ireland to their first Grand Slam since 1948.

Kidney had steadily built a special team, leading Ireland to Triple Crown successes in 2006 and 2007.

However, they looked set to forever be the bridesmaids, with Wales romping to two Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008, while France won two titles in 2006 and 2007.

But Ireland toughed out a series of tough matches in 2009, beating England by just one point, Scotland by seven and finally Wales by two to clinch the Slam in Cardiff.

Jacques Brunel (ITALY & FRANCE)

Brunel coached France between 2018-2019 but will be best remembered for his time in charge of Italy, where he presided over their memorable 2013 Championship campaign.

Boasting a squad containing the likes of Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni at their pomp, Brunel led Italy to a brilliant win against France in Round 1.

With a pack full of muscle, Italy’s scrum was superb and they ended that season’s Championship with a memorable victory against Ireland in Round 5, their first over Ireland in the Championship.

He then stepped in as France coach in 2018, leading them to a hardfought win over England in his first Championship in charge.

Eddie Jones (ENGLAND)

The way Eddie Jones rebuilt from the rubble of England’s home World Cup of 2015 was nothing short of miraculous.

The first notable step in doing so came in the form of winning England’s first Grand Slam in 13 years in 2016, finished in style with a victory in France.

England went on to retain their title in 2017, despite falling just short of the Grand Slam again, while they finished second last season – behind only a rampant Wales.

With his contract set to run for another two years, Jones has set himself high standards as he aims to get England playing the greatest rugby the world has ever seen.

Bernard Laporte (FRANCE)

Laporte’s maiden Grand Slam victory in 2002 broke England’s hold on the Championship and his France side was one of the most dominant the Six Nations has seen.

Laporte added a second unblemished campaign to his CV in 2004 and ended his career with four Championship trophies under his belt.

With the likes of Freddie Michalak, Yannick Jauzion and Aurélien Rougerie, Laporte’s France were only ever going to play one way and their scintillating brand of rugby was superb to watch.

2007 proved to be the last of his eight years at the helm of Les Bleus and his final Six Nations was another to remember as France pipped Ireland to top spot on points difference.

Only Marc Lièvremont, who claimed Six Nations success in 2010, has come close to replicating the standards set by Laporte since his departure.

Mike Ruddock (WALES)

Mike Ruddock spent less than two years in charge of Wales but his legacy is a Championship campaign that is still talked about today.

There was something special in the air during that 2005 Championship, when Gavin Henson became the David Beckham of rugby and led Wales to the Grand Slam.

It all started against England – with that massive Henson penalty – before Italy, France, Scotland and eventually Ireland were all put to the sword.

It was Wales’ first title since 1994 and first Grand Slam since 1978.

Ian McGeechan (SCOTLAND)

Having led the British & Irish Lions on four tours, Ian McGeechan’s knowledge of the game at the top level of Test rugby is hard to match.

He was assistant coach as Scotland sealed Five Nations glory in 1987, before claiming a Grand Slam triumph as the main man in 1990.

His second spell as head coach saw McGeechan lead Scotland from 2000 to 2003, including leading his side to victory over England in the first of those campaigns to deny them a Grand Slam.

Joe Schmidt (IRELAND)

Another multiple Championship winner, Joe Schmidt claimed back-to-back triumphs in 2014 and 2015 before adding a third in 2018.

His last win was perhaps his sweetest as it saw Ireland complete a Grand Slam campaign for the first time since 2009.

In a year in which no other side won more than three games, Schmidt’s Ireland were imperious and picked up bonus-point wins against Italy, Scotland and Wales.

A narrow 15-13 win over France on the opening weekend, which saw Johnny Sexton kick a game-winning drop goal at the death, proved to be the catalyst for the perfect campaign and they completed it in style with victory over England at Twickenham.

Sir Clive Woodward (ENGLAND)

The man who masterminded England’s triumph at the 2003 World Cup was at the helm as the Red Rose dominated the early stages of the Six Nations.

Three titles in the first four years after Italy joined the Championship in 2000 cements Woodward’s place as one of the Six Nations greatest coaches.

The former centre claimed his solitary Grand Slam success in 2003 to kickstart a memorable year for England and added three Triple Crowns and six Calcutta Cups to his haul.

Prior to that clean sweep in 2003, England had fallen short on the final weekend on two occasions, having to settle for Championship successes rather than Grand Slam victories. But in 2003 there was no stopping them as they romped to the title.

Marc Lièvremont (FRANCE)

Marc Lièvremont was given the tough task of filling the void left by Bernard Laporte, and the former France flanker wasted no time in bringing through a young core into the team.

Over the course of four years, Les Bleus never finished worse than third, with the standout campaign coming in 2010 as they clinched the Grand Slam, France’s third in the Six Nations era.

While France endured some down moments, as well as that success, under Lièvremont, they still regularly challenged for the Championship title, finishing second in 2011.

And later that year they went on to reach the World Cup final under his leadership, going down by a point to hosts New Zealand in their bid for a first World Cup victory.