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Six Nations Press Launch

Discussion in '2017 RBS Six Nations' started by SaintsFan_Webby, Jan 28, 2008.

  1. <div align="center">Waking up to the dulcet tones of Chris Moyles at 7:00am, it turns out the nerves I had done my best to shake off the night before were back with a vengeance. My destination this morning was The Hurlingham Club in southwest London for the official press launch of the 2008 RBS Six Nations. One look at the club's website (www.hurlinghamclub.org.uk) will confirm it as a venue of great splendour and beauty, surprising considering it's location. Turning out of the tube station under the unspectacular Putney Bridge, nothing can prepare you for what sits at the end of the road. A country club in all but technicalities, there can barely be a better way to start the day than taking the quarter mile stroll through the grounds towards the building where the conference would take place. Lush greenery greets you every way you turn; only then do you realise why there might be a waiting list upwards of ten years for membership to such a place.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Following the trail of fellow media hacks towards an imposing white building, my wide-eyed gaze fell on none other than former Ireland captain and British Lion, Keith Wood. It turned out to be quite the day for star spotting, with other members of the RBS sponsored team of ex-internationals including the likes of Martin Bayfield, Ieuan Evans and Jason Leonard.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">As any good student should do, once I was registered at the front desk I went on the hunt for freebies. A table near the entrance was loaded with various RBS Six Nations branded stationary items, so I promptly loaded up on as many pens as I could manage without looking suspicious. Next it was the aroma of high quality food which caught my attention, and weaving my way through the throngs of people of laptops and mobile phones, found myself confronted with the welcome sight of a brunch buffet. I'm not sure Danish pastries have ever been arranged quite so formally, but I wasn't in the mood to complain, having swiftly got my appetite back upon the realisation that I didn't have to pay for what was in front of me. The staff on hand to pour your drinks for you was also a welcome addition, becoming even more invaluable around midday when they swapped jugs of boiling water for trays of free beer. Even if it was only Becks.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Soon it was on to the main business of the day. Finding myself a seat amongst the 'Agencies and Online' scrum, my opening experience of the rugby journalism world would be in the presence of new Welsh coach Warren Gatland and captain Ryan Jones. Within seconds I had learnt several important lessons: Firstly, always take a recording device, as it makes the whole process so much easier; secondly, never be so intent on your job that you anger a professional rugby player. In his haste to position his Dictaphone as close to Gatland as humanly possible, one keen bean came perilously close to knocking over the glass of water Jones had begun pouring. A look like thunder followed, a look which, if accompanied by a casual flex of his bicep, would have had many a grown man grovelling in apology. I sympathised with the Welshman though, as this fellow (who, I grew increasingly certain as the day wore on, was in fact a bit of a twat) didn't even seem to notice the situation that had nearly arisen. There were no sorts of introductions, simply the first question fired in before I had even readied my pen.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">When asked what he had learnt so far during his short stint in charge, Gatland replied that he had been very impressed by the attitude shown by the Welsh players, but that a good start to the tournament was vital. Belief, he said, was vital, and that the positive performances of the Ospreys and Cardiff in the Heineken Cup should instil confidence about the Welsh ability to compete with the best. He also sighted the "top two inches" as being key if Wales were to reach their goals.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Next the subject of playing more 'streetwise' rugby was put before the Kiwi coach, linking itself to the recent recruitment of Shaun Edwards. Gatland's view was clear – he would rather win playing ugly rugby than come off second-best in a try fest every week. While this may appear to go against the fabled 'Welsh way' of playing, Gatland was keen to emphasise a need for balanced rugby, a smart territorial game to complement attacking flair. While admitting that it was hard to have covered everything in such a short time in charge, the set pieces and contact area have been priorities on the list of issues to sort out. What was overwhelmingly obvious is Gatland's desire to deal with the basics first, something they have arguably been struggling with ever since the Grand Slam success of 2005. On that subject it was captain Jones' turn to have a say – although the Welsh team and supporters shouldn't forget what was achieved then, they must adapt and inject fresh impetus into their game, otherwise they are in danger of being left behind.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Matters quickly turned to Wales' first challenge, the daunting task of facing a rejuvenated England at Twickenham, a stadium in which they have not won for a long, long time. So did Gatland and Edwards share the optimism of their supporters? "Absolutely" came the reply. Both men having worked (or in Edwards case, still working with) Wasps means they will know certain players very well. Twickenham should hold no fear for Gatland, himself quick to point out his own domestic success at "one of the best stadiums in the world" over the years. Although determined to pick the best team possible, if this means selecting young players then Gatland has no fear in handing them a debut at HQ. He queried how predictable this England side would be, whether they would simply look to bully sides up front or whether there was a more expansive style about to be unleashed.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Finally, foreigners in Welsh rugby and the number 9 jersey were tabled. Gatland's stance on keeping Welsh players in Wales was that it was his responsibility to do so. Although disappointed by the departure of Dwayne Peel, he said it was understandable and that, maybe, it could help him to develop his game further. And according the new boss, the scrum half position is still very much up for grabs, with Peel injured, Phillips spending time on the sidelines and Cooper playing well at Gloucester. The temptation was to ask whether Gatland had actually seen Cooper's performance against the Ospreys, but before I knew it my first interview session was over. Never has such a large amount of messy scribble been put to paper in such a short space of time.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">A swift turnaround brought before the group the sparkling charm of Marc Lievremont and gargantuan arms of newly appointed captain Lionel Nallet. Any question session is going to difficult when trying to work from one language to another, but fortunately provisions had been made for a top quality translator to be on hand for those of us to whom French had been just another GCSE. This, of course, included everyone except one smug git sitting right at the front who had the ability to fire of questions en Francais with an unnerving fluency. All this meant I was completely lost for some sections, but I gleaned what I could from the representatives of Les Blues.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">The first focus was upon the squad selected for the tournament. Those players dropped or injured do have the opportunity to reclaim their spot and the door has not been closed on them. However, Lievremont recognises the need to bring through young talent, and if this means sacrificing under-performing older heads then so be it. This includes the iconic Sebastian Chabal. The new coach is insistent that all players will be selected on rugby grounds alone, but also that there is no pressure from the French public to pick him purely because of his popularity during the RWC. Although the 2011 World Cup is a long-term goal, the coaching staff recognise the need for results in the present. Based on this, they have lists of young talent from across France, who although not ready for international rugby just yet, they are looking to give experience to over the next four years.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">As far as their first match [against Scotland] goes, Lievremont grinned that he made no promises as to how his team would gel, but that at least this makes him popular amongst bookmakers. Whether he is up to the task is still open for question, but however France go, at least they now have a coach with sheds more charisma than Bernard Laporte. Even in France they apparently cannot define French flair, the drastic swing between hot and cold form, but Lievremont is looking to add consistency to the French ability to play running rugby.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Attention then turned to the quietly spoken giant Nallet who said his first priority was, of course, the Scots, but that he relished the forward battle to come against every nation. And what of England – will revenge for their RWC semi-final defeat be high on the list of priorities. Nallet murmured that of course it would be nice, as always, to bet the English, but they cannot afford to focus purely on that match. Despite the disappointment surrounding the World Cup, they need to move on if they are to perform as they would like. Then with a "Merci", the French duo departed, making way for Italian counterparts Nick Mallet and Sergio Parisse.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Mallet, contrary to what his eyebrows may suggest, oozes charm and appears quite the gent. Although he knows it will be tough, the South African would love to guide his new charge to the relative success of the two wins achieved last year. "Fantastic" was the exact word used to describe this ambition. Developing a world-class halfback combination, Mallet continued, is key to meeting this target. Whilst some positions, such as centre, do not worry him, Mallet was quick to concede that Italian rugby does not possess the depth of their European rivals.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Then it was the turn of Parisse, looking more like the lead singer of a boy band than the man charged with leading his country's charge up front. As the Italian rolled of his tongue ready for translation, I noted that this was a young man clearly very comfortable in his own skin. The RWC, he admitted, was a big disappointment, as Italy did not meet the objective they had set themselves. However, there was no point in dwelling on the past as the Six Nations was a new chance to move forward. And was the captaincy a surprise? Yes, definitely, despite captaining the Italian under 21 side in the past. He had though, spoken to Marco Bortolami who had wished him luck. At this point Mallet chimed in again, pointing out that although Bortolami was a huge loss to the side, Sergio had the respect of both his own and opposition players, and had plenty of leadership experience.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Mallet was equally aware of the growth of rugby's popularity in Italy and the vital need to build on this. Having the confidence to close out matches in the last 20 minutes will prove key, and while individually Italy possess high calibre players they needed to find their rhythm as a team.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">The pair parted with what was quickly becoming to tagline of every interview – they were confident of having a good Six Nations and were delighted to be playing in such a fantastic competition. However, Mallet had one extra detail of his own to add: it was his opinion that although both were full of high quality rugby, the variation and rivalry of the Six Nations made it less repetitive and more interesting than its southern equivalent, the Tri-Nations. Make of that comment from the South African what you will.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Halfway through the interviews it was time for a brief break. Carefully leaving my notebook face down on my chair, the forum address written in bold marker on the back for all to see, I proceeded back into the lobby to stretch my legs. With the buffet still in place I once again stocked up on free food before heading back inside. Whatever your view on this type of private club, they certainly know how to host a function. Even the toilets had a grand aura surrounding them.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Next up were the men holding the most interest for me personally – English coach and captain, Brian Ashton and Phil Vickery. I was literally perched on the edge of my seat as the Cornish Rock strode over, dwarfing with his overall stature the comparatively frail looking Ashton. There was certainly nothing frail about Ashton's mind though, every answer given with the glittering expression of an intellectual who loves his work and knows it as well as he does his wife. A coy first answer revealed little to clarify questions over the style of play England may adopt. Of course every side must play to their strengths he mused, but must be able to adapt in order that they are not left behind by the ever-changing nature of the modern game. The mindset for playing in a tournament like the Six Nations is different to that of a World Cup said Ashton, but both he and his players know they need to raise their game to the next level if they are to become world-beaters once again. As far as injuries go, Ashton quipped, he was keeping everything possible crossed during the final round of Premiership matches before the tournament. With Paul Sackey recovering from mumps and the likes of Vainikolo, Easter and Worsley all struggling to be fit for the first match, England could do without any more enforced absences.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Next it was the turn of Vickery a man who I naively expected not to be the greatest public speaker present. However, I foolishly neglected to remember that this is rugby not football, a sport where the hardest men on the pitch are often the softest off it. With a slight west-country twang in his voice, Vickery answered questions with a personality to match the size of his chest. Humour and genuine intelligence protruded during every word of his softly delivered replies. True captain material. His views on the upcoming challenges were also resoundingly positive. Vickery would be disappointed if anyone in the squad wanted anything less than to re-establish England as the team to beat. Unfortunately for, I'm sure, many people, this was not English arrogance on display, just a quiet display of ambition and determination.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Attention turned back to Ashton once more to talk about the hype surrounding youngster Danny Cipriani. Both he and Cipriani's Wasps colleague Vickery believe the flying number 10 is the sort of player with the potential to light up the international tournaments for years to come, his strong ambitions and self confidence driving factors in this. Whether he will start against Wales seems doubtful though, with Ashton already certain of his first XV for the first match in what, he says, promises to be an "extremely open" and unpredictable competition.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Next it was the turn of the men from the Emerald Isle, yet I was somewhat taken aback to be confronted by a very surly looking Brian O'Driscoll. It was past 11 o'clock by this point and I was convinced even the biggest of rugby stars would have been awake by this point. Whilst I felt one comment from a fellow reporter was a little harsh ("It's as much a part of his f***ing job as f***ing training now, all this type of stuff"), what followed was one of the most disappointing encounters with a sporting hero you could imagine. BOD's voice told listeners he was looking forward to playing at Croke Park once more, as the fantastic atmosphere had been a massive factor in last years match, but the facial expression still didn't match the words. His part of the interview was summed up quite adequately when asked whether he was happy with his own form. A fairly non-committal response was muttered that he wasn't doing badly and had been getting better since shaking off an ankle injury picked up at the World Cup. Overall everyone was left feeling that one of the modern era's great centres had been caught on a bit of an off day. However, he did in one fleeting moment bring to my realisation just what a comparative baby I was in this atmosphere. Upon meeting O'Driscoll's eye part way through the session, I was met with a quizzical expression which suggested the question "Why aren't you in school?" might not be too far behind. Looking around it came to my attention that I was comfortably the youngest person in the packed room, probably by a good five or six years at the very least. As if I needed another factor to add to the daunting nature of the whole experience.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">To his credit, 'Steady' Eddie O'Sullivan proved to be far more cooperative. Perhaps predictably, the first line of questioning surrounded Ireland's dismal underachievement during the RWC. Eddie met this head on with the equally predictable assessment that everyone has been able to reflect on what went wrong in the time since October and a great deal of soul searching has occurred. He defended his team selections though, claiming it was poor play, not poor selection policy which saw his side turn in such a dreadful set of performances. And was there more pressure coming into this tournament? There is always pressure, deflected O'Sullivan, whether you are winning or losing. There is just more of it when you are in his situation. However, he is determined not to let it get to his players, insisting that they must not panic and act differently just because of recent negative attention.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Last, but certainly not least, Scotland's Frank Hadden and (for reasons unbeknown to most) hairless winger Simon Webster took their seats before the assembled masses. Hadden is another one of these men who seems at ease in such an environment, a feature common to every one of the coaches present. Webster on the other hand looked as surprised as the rest of us that he was there. Hadden believed his young and maturing squad had grown considerably from their RWC exploits, despite being frustrated with the way their competition ended. A good start, he said, was vital, but with a bit of confidence the Scots had as good a chance as anybody. On top of this, Hadden was upbeat about the greater depth emerging within Scottish rugby, and the number of this group who are youngsters plying their trade with Scotland's pro clubs.</div>
    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Webster, in one of his rare moments of speech, validated the comments that he and his teammates were disappointed to have been knocked from the RWC in the manner they were. He supposed they could have gone further, but that a line must now be drawn in order for them to move forward. He cited some added pressure on the backs, as they were the men charged with scoring tries, but was of the opinion that no side really found the desired rhythm during the World Cup, especially with strong defensive systems dominating some matches.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Looking ahead to their clash with France, Hadden was not expecting too many new faces to feature in their starting side, despite a number being named in the wider squad. Familiar faces, he stated, were likely to be used to smooth the transition to a new coach and regime. His own selection headache was met with a smile, the integral competition for places vital if everyone is to be kept performing at the top of their game.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Finally, having failed to ask even one of my own meticulously prepared questions until this point, I dived into the conversation headfirst. Making yourself heard at this type of event is far more difficult than I could ever have anticipated. Experience is key, as is positioning and a healthy slice of luck. At the end of every question is a split second of silence in which you must act. If you pause for breath, if the interviewee is not looking your way, if any one of a variety of issues crop up, it is almost impossible to say what you want. Having spent the previous 30 seconds preparing for the moment, I at last knew when to strike. Calling Frank's name louder than strictly necessary, I breathlessly churned out that I was from therugbyforum.com and put to him a question which satisfied both my own personal queries and those of a wider audience – how big a loss would recently injured Northampton and Scotland winger Shaun Lamont be to Hadden's squad? I was met with a kindly look, far different to that I had received earlier from the Irish captain, before he spoke. Shaun, he said, was a big loss, as in the last two years he had gone about establishing himself as Scotland's first choice winger. However, strength in this area was good, with the likes of Webster and Ulster's Simon Danelli, as well as the younger Lamont brother Rory, able deputies. Satisfied with asking not just any question, but what turned out to be the last of the day, I put the lid on my pen and breathed a sigh of relief before following Hadden out of the room to hear him delight at the sight of the Danish pastries still on offer. It's nice to see these high profile individuals really are as human and down to earth as the rest of us.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">The rest of the time passed in a blur, so overwhelmed had I been by the intensity of the whole experience. As I sipped on a free beer and lunched on a newly laid out selection of free food, I watched the captains from each of the women's Six Nations sides being photographed on the perfectly manicured lawn outside. You certainly wouldn't want to get into a fight with the Scottish captain, but contrary to the stereotype about rugby-playing women both the Irish and Italian captains were rather pretty. I didn't quite feel up to trying out my best lines on either of them, but you certainly wouldn't pick them as top level players in such a rough sport if you saw them on the street. Having tried and failed spectacularly to get into conversation with any of rugby writing's big guns, I loaded my pockets with sustenance for the journey home and sidestepped my way back to the entrance.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">My aim before setting out had been to advertise the forum and network with as many people as possible for future reference. Neither of these aims went anywhere near as well as I would have liked, but the experience has proved invaluable and is definitely something I am looking to repeat. Getting your face out there is the first step, but I quickly learned that there is no substitute for hands-on field trips in this game. I go into my next media event 100% more confident that I have the ability and newly acquired nouse to deal with anything.</div>
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    <div align="center"> </div><div align="center">Article by Tim Webb for therugbyforum.com</div>
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    <div align="center">Disclaimer – all views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of either the staff or members of therugbyforum.com. All speech of both the coaches and captains of the Six Nations countries has been paraphrased unless placed in quotation marks. This article should not be used as part of any other website or publication without express permission from the author.</div>
     
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  3. getofmeland

    getofmeland Guest

    Sounds like a superb event, Great article, will comment further laters... But one question I will ask, WHERE'S MY FREE PEN AND DANISH!!!

    You can keep the Becks, even if it is free...
     
  4. O'Rothlain

    O'Rothlain Guest

    Great Article. Well Done.
    This new French Coach is surely joking about the possibility of not including Chabal...haha.
    I think that picture of B'OD sums up your report on him...quality.
     
  5. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    Yeah great report! You didn't speak to Mick Cleary though :(:(:(:(:(
     
  6. I couldn't pick him out of the (literally) hundreds of journalists and other people all over the place. Doubt he would have mingled with us website representing riff-raff anyway.
     
  7. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    Mate, he looks like frickin' Jeremy Clarkson from the early 1990s! How could you not miss him?!
     
  8. I did miss him. ;)

    Check you're grammar young padawan...
     
  9. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    I refuse to bow to someone who insists on spelling "center" incorrectly! :p
     
  10. O'Rothlain

    O'Rothlain Guest

    Are there more photos?
     
  11. Great article, but my god it was long :mellow:
     
  12. polonius

    polonius Guest

    Thank you for this. A good, fun, read and probably a darned sight more detailed that some of the reports that will appear from the seasoned journalists.

    Saddened to read you tune into Chris Moyles, but then I note you are 19 years old, so you can be excused. Don't worry, you'll get to enjoy Terry Wogan yet.

    Also a bit surprised you merely 'sipped on a free beer' - and even more surprised to read it was just the singular :bonne-de: but thanks again for a great report.
     
  13. woosaah

    woosaah Guest

    Well done, thats was a great read. I learnt alot, mainly who the coachs of the teams and the captains :) well i knew about BOD and Warren Gatland, but other than that nope. nothing.

    It was great, and i hope you get to go to more of these functions, as i bet you do too, if only for the free food and beer.
     
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