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"The Six Nations community experiences a transformation as winds of change bring forth a renewed sense of purpose."
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“The Six Nations community experiences a transformation as winds of change bring forth a renewed sense of purpose.”

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The 2024 Six Nations tournament has kicked off with a bang. The strong impact of Storm Isha certainly caused chaos for the tournament’s start, resulting in coaches, players, administrators, and journalists having to change their travel arrangements and serving as a reminder of rugby’s significance in the world. While the players may be massive, there are even greater natural forces at play.

If you were lucky enough to arrive in the right city and visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, there was still a lot to see. The period after a World Cup is always exciting, especially this time. Looking at the new captains who will lead their countries – such as Jamie George from England, Peter O’Mahony from Ireland, and 21-year-old Dafydd Jenkins from Wales – shows the renewed determination of each nation.

Johnny Sexton is no longer there to provide Ireland with a sense of assurance and control. France’s key player, Antoine Dupont, will be participating in the Paris Olympic sevens instead. England’s Owen Farrell and Louis Rees-Zammit, who are both occupied with other commitments, will also not be present. The Netflix documentary crew will have to seek out new individuals to feature.

Upon initial observation, the two nations least affected by the unpredictable shifts in circumstance should be France and Ireland. Despite only making it to the quarter-finals, both teams excelled at the World Cup. Additionally, as Andy Farrell of Ireland emphasized, the absence of Sexton and a few other players does not automatically signify the downfall of the entire team.

“Is this a fresh beginning?” Farrell posed the question. “It’s not due to our past experiences. Our goal is to keep progressing and that cannot be achieved by simply dismantling it. The competition for positions is crucial and it must remain so. I don’t believe in the notion of a four-year cycle that often arises after the conclusion of World Cups.”

Compare and contrast with Warren Gatland, about to enter his 17th Six Nations campaign with Wales and a past master at confounding people’s expectations. In Gatland’s view the rebuilding process has to start now – “It’s definitely about thinking about the future, not just for this World Cup cycle but the next one” – without entirely losing sight of the here and now. “It doesn’t mean we’re not taking this competition seriously … that first game against Scotland is incredibly important.

“Beginning on a positive note, we can confidently head to Twickenham without excessive anxiety. We have the ability to emerge victorious in this tournament. Historically, underestimating Wales has proven to be a dangerous mistake. By doing so, you may find yourself unprepared.”

Jamie George celebrates an England win

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Both Scotland and Italy are likely considering similar strategies, as Scotland also has new leaders in the form of co-captains Finn Russell and Rory Darge. If Darge is not fully prepared for the first game against Wales, Russell will take the reins, and everyone involved with the Scottish team is determined to make up for their disappointing World Cup performance.

The French team, led by Grégory Alldritt replacing Dupont and with Maxime Lucu ready to wear the No. 9 jersey, is well aware that their first match against Ireland in Marseille will greatly impact their future. Unfortunately, they will be without the well-liked flanker Anthony Jelonch, who has suffered a significant knee injury and will be out of play for several months.

England is currently looking for a new approach after finishing in third place at the World Cup. George, the new captain after Farrell, is not trying to hide the fact that England’s recent performances in the Six Nations have been underwhelming. He acknowledges the statistics and their poor record at home, particularly at Twickenham, a location they hold dear and aim to make impenetrable. This is a major disappointment.

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Most telling of all, perhaps, will be which of the promoted captains and newly recruited coaches makes a critical impact. Gatland reckons Exeter’s Jenkins, the second-youngest Welsh captain in history after Sir Gareth Edwards, has a potential touch of the Alun Wyn Joneses and Lawrence Dallaglios about him, while Steve Borthwick and George are already talking in glowing terms about Felix Jones, their new Irish coaching recruit last seen helping South Africa to attain World Cup glory.

According to Borthwick, Felix is an extremely energetic individual, and that’s saying a lot. Borthwick also mentioned that Felix may not even sleep. George is already sure that under Jones’s leadership, England’s defense will be much more proactive. After just one meeting, George is confident that England will play a more aggressive game and limit their opponents’ time and space on the field. This prospect is incredibly exciting, especially when considering the high-quality players on the team. The upcoming Six Nations is sure to be an amazing tournament.

The disorder at the airport on Sunday evening may have physically prevented George from traveling across the Irish Sea, but like other fans of the Six Nations, he is already feeling excited and eager for the event.

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Source: theguardian.com