The launch of the Guinness Six Nations gives coaches and captains a chance to size each other up before the action commences and this year it was County Hall in London that played host to the curtain-raiser.
As ever, the coaches arrived suited and booted, Fabien Galthié once again catching the eye for his singular approach to fashion, while there were two new faces in the crowd with Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland – well, old and new in the case of the latter.
So with less than two weeks to go until the Championship kicks off with Wales against Ireland in Cardiff, what did we learn from the day’s proceedings?
Captain Owens a man in demand
Warren Gatland’s first big decision on his return to leading Wales was to select a captain, with Dan Biggar, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones having all fulfilled the role in the past three years.
Young Ospreys flanker Jac Morgan was another man mentioned as a candidate, but Gatland plumped for hooker Ken Owens, a man who has enjoyed great success under Gats during his first spell in charge.
With his main rival for the No.2 jersey, Dewi Lake, facing an extended spell on the sidelines, Owens’ role will be even more important now, and he revealed what the first couple of days were like after getting the nod.
He explained: “Warren rang me last Monday and I had to keep it quiet for 24 hours. I was straight back into it then, we (Scarlets) had a big European match out in Bayonne. My phone went bananas for a day or so, plenty of requests for tickets as apparently you get extra when you’re captain, but nothing much has changed.
“I grew up dreaming of playing for my country and having the opportunity to be captain means a hell of a lot. I’m proud to have this opportunity for the people who have supported me over the years, it’s as much for them as it is for myself.”
Who’s that behind the mask?
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has still yet to feature for Leinster since sustaining his facial injury against Connacht on New Year’s Day, but like prop Tadhg Furlong who nurses a calf complaint, Sexton will be fit for the opener against Wales.
There is even better news for Ireland supporters, Sexton has been training, with the use of a face mask as he continues to recover from ‘the best injury on your face’.
He said: “I was training last week, I just had a funny face mask on, I will keep that on this week in training and it comes off next week, so good to go next week.
“When you get injured so close, at the time the European games were at the forefront of my mind, then obviously you figure you’re not going to be able to play in them, so it becomes the Six Nations then.
“But from early doors, even just the day after the injury, the surgeon and the doctor said it was probably the best injury to have on your face, so that was nice to know – ‘If you could pick one bone, pick that one!'”
French fashion is just that little bit different
The current make-up of Guinness Six Nations coaches is two Englishmen, two New Zealanders, one Scot and one Frenchman.
When it comes to talking about the game, some of the same lines come from all of them: ‘One game at a time’, ‘It’s all about building momentum’ etc.
In terms of image though, you could have taken someone who had never even heard of the sport of rugby and asked them to spot the Frenchman of the collection and been fairly confident they would get it right.
Last year, it was France skipper Antoine Dupont who was standing out with that GQ cover in the yellow bathrobe.
This time around, as he does every year, Fabien Galthié oozed style with his one-of-a-kind glasses and white trainers.
While ties were about the only thing to differentiate the dress codes of the remaining five coaches, the man in charge of Les Bleus was not afraid to stand out from the crowd.
From coaching one Borthwick to playing for another
Bath hooker Tom Dunn was called into the England squad this morning following injury to George McGuigan at the weekend and Steve Borthwick revealed he has begun coaching early.
Dunn has been coaching Chippenham mini rugby at Under-8s level, the club that Borthwick’s two children play for and Borthwick revealed his newest call-up has been passing on his set-piece expertise.
He said: “Tom Dunn coaches at Chippenham minis, which is where my two boys play, so I’d be able to pop over and say hi.
“I think he is with the Under-8s and I see them mauling and scrummaging, they are going to be a very physical Under-8s side!”
Dunn was called up to the squad alongside Northampton Saints second row David Ribbans, who replaced Courtney Lawes following his calf injury against La Rochelle, with Borthwick revealing the injured pair would both have scans to reveal the extent of their injuries before re-assessing.
Everybody is talking about Ange
Edoardo Padovani’s try against Wales last year will go down in Guinness Six Nations history as one of the Championship’s iconic moments.
Ange Capuozzo, in his first Test start, announced himself to the world with a mazy, match-winning run, and the full-back has not looked back since.
Named World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year after adding more stunning performances in the Autumn Nations Series, it is little surprise that Capuozzo was the name on everyone’s lips when Italy coach Kieran Crowley and skipper Michele Lamaro were chatting to the media.
Explaining what it is like to play with Capuozzo, Lamaro said: “You know anything can happen in any moment of the game. That is exciting. It’s something special for us because he knows when to accelerate, he feels the moment.”
A summer move from Grenoble in the second flight to Toulouse, France’s most successful club, has only increased the spotlight on Capuozzo, and Crowley admits that he will be a marked man one year on from his debut campaign.
He added: “He’s a big part of our team. He’s one of the superstars. But it’s a big challenge too. Last year he burst onto the scene and no one knew him. His challenge now is to continue to develop and have a good run this campaign.”
Cam’s dad might have to tell him about ’99
Scotland have not quite had the rub of the green since the Championship welcomed Italy in 2000, with their last title coming in the final edition of the Five Nations in 1999.
Gregor Townsend not only played but scored in all four of those matches and remembers it fondly, but someone who cannot remember it is uncapped second row Cameron Henderson, who was born in January 2000.
That may have made a few people in the room feel old, including Townsend, but the Scotland head coach only had positive things to say about the Leicester Tigers second row.
He said: “We’ve never won the Guinness Six Nations but the last time we won the Five Nations he wasn’t born!
“We were really impressed with how he played against Clermont two weeks ago, leading the lineout, defending really well, and he backed it up at the weekend too.
“He was someone that came into our squad for the summer tour that never happened in 2021 and has had to come back from an ACL injury.
“He is obviously at a very competitive club with some very good front five players so for him to come back and play so well at that level calling lineouts, we feel he has earned a place in the squad.”
Maybe it will be up to Henderson’s dad to tell him all about that year from his head coach.