Six Nations: Lions Coach Wanted. Apply Within.

We’ve had the World Cup, we’ve had the group stages of the Heineken Cup, heck we’ve even had some Rabodirect Pro12 League Mega Sized Action, but now all those terribly nouveau tournaments move aside, and the Grand Olde Dame of world rugby, The Six Nations, looms into view.  The annual event should bring the usual array of dashed hopes, stagnant rugby, corporate days out, banal press conferences, inter-provincial blame-gaming and George Hook, but y’know, we can’t help but get excited about it.  We’re the sort that dares to get his hopes up.

This year, we are eschewing the usual “England will be hard to beat and Ireland can’t score tries”-type country-by-country preview for something a bit more thematic. We will be previewing this year’s tournament by asking a series of questions:
  • What are the management teams doing? And why are they all wearing their ‘Power of Four’ wristbands
  • How will the recently-finished HEC group stages impacted the Six Nations?
  • Post RWC11-rebuilding – who is doing what and how?
  • A, ahem, deeper dive on Ireland – was all the pedestrian back play down to Gaffney??
  • Actual predictions where we put our neck on the line. Like when we confidently predicted Biarritz would make the HEC knock-out stages and the Liginds would struggle.

In the first, we run the rule over the coaches overseeing the whole shambles.  Here goes nothing.

One curious side issue of this year’s Six Nations is that the Lions administrators have effectively said that the manager of the 2013 Australia tour will be one of Warren ‘Wazza’ Gatland, Declan ‘Deccie’ Kidney and Andy ‘Andy Robinson’ Robinson, with a backstop of St. Ian McGeechan if each of those three are deemed suitably hopeless.  They haven’t ruled out anyone else (in the whole world) but they would prefer the coach to be affiliated to one of the home unions, with the anointed one required to take a year out to dedicate himself to the role (those Premiership games won’t watch themselves, and somebody has to mail out those Power of Four wristbands).

It makes for an intriguing competition within a competition, even if it’s not quite a straight shootout based on final placings.  We can’t but see Wazza as being firmly in poll position.  He’s already been on a successful tour, as an important presence in 2009, he’s a progressive selector, and the way he tactically outwitted Deccie in the World Cup is fresh in the memory.  He’d also provide good copy with his pre-match bluster, and as a Kiwi, is au fait with dishing it out to the Aussies.  This Six Nations we can expect him to be in bullish mood.  He’s already very proud of himself for picking 18 year old speedster Harry Robinson, and his currency has rarely been higher.  We’re not sold on the whole Wales Are The World’s Greatest thing, but a halfway decent Six Nations and the gig should be his.

The image of Andy Robinson punching walls in the Lions’ technical box seems a bit far fetched, and we can’t quite see it.  Robinson has done a decent job with Scotland, but they still haven’t made that breakthrough that they keep threatening, and have a tendency to freeze on the big occasion.  Even if Scotland do brilliantly, we just can’t see him as Lions head coach.

We have to admit to hoping against all hope that Deccie gets the call, if only for moments like this…

Sky Hype Interviewer:  ‘Well Declan, congratulations on a historic Lions win.  What did you make of the incredible Oooooooooohhh 17-tackle, 6 lineout-takes, 60m carrying performance by Oooooooohhh Courtney Lawes?’


Deccie: ‘Courtney went well, but maybe if we’d gone with Donncha we would have won by more points.  Sure, aren’t we blessed to have two such great fellas.’

The Aussies wouldn’t know what to do with him.

Away from the Lions circus, Stuart Lancaster is in something approaching a win-win situation.  England are at such a low ebb that the only way really is up.  Nobody’s expecting too much, and if they play a fairly watchable brand of rugby the public will be happy, regardless of results.  Even if England get the wooden spoon, he can say he has given the next generation their head.

France are under new stewardship, with Philipe Saint-Andre stepping into the breach.  He’s picked a strong squad, and it seems he wants to break with the Mad Lievremont years.  Such is the depth of talent in the French squad, it looks like even a halfway decent coach should be able to coerce them into playing some decent stuff.  Saint-Andre’s CV isn’t that impressive (his Toulon side finished ninth in the Top 14 last year) but some consistent selection and a clear gameplan would be half the battle.

Finally, Italy are also under a new coach, with former Perpignan man Jacques Brunel taking up where Nick Mallett left off.  Mallett was popular and respected, so Brunel won’t want to rock the boat too much.  Keeping Italy hard to beat while gradually broadening their game will be the order of the day – and that should have been made easier by the Pro12 sides beginning to throw the ball around a bit, and some talented youngsters like Benvenuti and Semenzato.