Here are five coaching calls that could shape the destiny of this year’s Six Nations championship.
Is it possible to harness emotion?
The destiny of this year’s Six Nations title will not be decided by a coach’s on-field tactical decisions alone. Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has two off-field issues to address that will have a significant bearing on his side’s Six Nations and his first taste of the championship. The first stems from Ireland’s last outing against New Zealand in November where they flirted with a first ever victory over the All Blacks only to fall to a heart-breaking defeat. The agonising nature of that loss will have scarred his squad and demanded delicate treatment in the wake of the defeat itself to ensure his side are still able to draw positives from it. How they now reference that game will be evident from the opening whistle. Secondly, Schmidt must harness the emotion that will accompany Brian O’Driscoll’s final Six Nations before retirement without allowing it to over-shadow their title challenge. Do that successfully and, thanks to a kind schedule, there is every chance that a title-winning campaign could end with yet another golden moment for O’Driscoll in Paris at the stadium where he announced himself on the Test stage with a hat-trick back in 2000.
Can France find their long lost flair?
The history books tell us France are a good bet to win the title following a British & Irish Lions tour but they have plenty of work if they are to go from last year’s wooden spoon to championship glory.
The flair on which they made their name has been largely notable by its absence since Philippe Saint-Andre took charge with his failure to settle on a No.10 compounding his problems. Question marks remain over their first choice playmaker with Frederic Michalak recently discarded and Remi Tales set to miss the opener against England through injury. Does he opt for the in-form yet untried Stade Francais No.10 Jules Plisson or hand a recall to the more experienced Montpellier fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc? Toulouse’s Jean-Marc Doussain is another option, although primarily seen as a scrum-half, with whoever is chosen set to be charged with unleashing a talent-heavy backs division set to include the likes of Wesley Fofana and Gael Fickou. Saint-Andre’s next move will not only impact on his side’s Six Nations hopes but surely his own future having seen his side win just two of 11 Test clashes last year.
How often do you go to the ‘go to’ man?
Wales possess arguably the most potent attacking force in world rugby right now in George North. The 21-year-old winger is one of the sport’s hottest properties having starred for the British & Irish Lions, Wales and Northampton Saints in recent months with his devastating combination of power and pace a key part of the defending champions’ armoury. When you have such a player at your disposal the temptation is to involve them as much as possible but not to the point where you become predictable. Do not be surprised if North continues to crop up in midfield and wreak havoc in defensive lines, especially with injury having sidelined another key threat in the form of Jonathan Davies, and coach Warren Gatland will be determined to extract a greater return from North than the one try he managed in last year’s Six Nations.
Time ticking for Twelvetrees?
Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees is expected to keep the England No.12 shirt for his side’s Six Nations campaign starting with the clash against France this weekend – but he is under growing pressure to provide the creative spark that has been largely missing of late from his otherwise successful side. He has retained the faith of coach Stuart Lancaster despite having been subjected to widespread criticism during the autumn while his best form has also been absent on the domestic stage – although an under-performing Gloucester pack have done him no favours. Lancaster remains defiant, confident in Twelvetrees’ playmaking ability and his partnership with first-choice No.10 Owen Farrell. But Lancaster may opt for a re-think if Twelvetrees fails to leverage a powerful England pack – especially now Brad Barritt has returned to fitness and is very much in the midfield mix. Twelvetrees is not only going to have to hit the ground running – in the daunting surroundings of the Stade de France and then Murrayfield – but also take his team-mates along for the ride.
Does BOD have a point to prove?
The dust may have long since settled on the row that followed coach Warren Gatland’s decision to drop Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll for the British & Irish Lions’ third Test decider against Australia last year but expect the veteran centre’s pain to resurface when Wales visit Dublin in Round 2. Every O’Driscoll outing in what will be his last Six Nations is sure to be emotionally-charged – but none more so than his final encounter with a coach who also handed him his international debut back in 1999 when he was Ireland coach. Both Ireland and Wales are favoured to win their opening clashes, against Scotland and Italy respectively, with their Aviva Stadium showdown set to be pivotal to their respective championship chances. The history books show Gatland’s controversial call paid off Down Under but could his bold call still come at a price?
Where do you see the Six Nations being decided and which coach do you think will deliver? Comments below…