The Six Nations 2016 has a special edge to it this year.
Because John Feehan, its chief executive who also heads the British & Irish Lions, has made it clear that the coaching team for next year’s tour to New Zealand will be announced in the late summer, and events between now and then will be the deciding factor on who is given the task.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland is the clear favourite to take charge of a second successive tour, having overseen victory in Australia in 2013. But he and other contenders now know where they stand; there can be no complacency.
Gatland will need to perform or risk being beaten to the venerated post. Gatland and his Wales side head to Twickenham during the Six Nations for an epic clash. England v Wales (Saturday 12th March) is always a highly anticipated clash and it is no different for the Six Nations 2016.
Arguably, true rugby aficionados regard the Lions as the pinnacle – even more important than the World Cup. Quite whether the RFU, Premiership Rugby, coaches or even some players do is these days sadly in question.
Administrators give the impression they find it tiresome and increasingly cram it into the schedule, 10 games in just over a month.
Some club owners and management, though they would never admit it, seem to view the Lions as an anachronism and would snatch at any opportunity to dump it. Coaches seem more concerned at how much it takes out of players, fearing they will come back injured and fatigued.
Thankfully the vast majority of players buy into the Lions and view it with great pride in the manner of New Zealand conquerors, Edwards, John, Duckham, Willie John McBride, JPR and the rest of the 1971 greats.
For supporters it is just the best … and they surely are the ones who matter.
Coach named after Six Nations
At the recent Lions launch, where Standard Life Investments were confirmed as the tour’s sponsors, Feehan noted: “What happens with individuals, unions, or indeed at clubs, will happen. Results will go different ways and you’ll get changes – those things happen.
“We have got be sure that we have sufficient time and that the coach has enough time to properly prepare for the tour. So we have a timeframe which we kind of have to adhere to and obviously anybody who is in situ as an international coach, particularly in the home unions, will come into consideration.
All to play for then, so to speak. Feehan has promised no repeat of the logistical and rugby nightmare which led to a drubbing in New Zealand in 2005.
He said: “We learned a lot from 2005. We learned a lot about how not to do it.
“We really did make quite a lot of changes for South Africa and it nearly came off, we could easily have won that series. Then we did win the series in Australia, so we have learned some lessons from our last tour of New Zealand that should give us a better chance.”
Let’s hope there is no repeat of what happened 40 seconds into the first Test in 2005 when Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll was sidelined injured for the rest of the tour after an alleged spear tackle by New Zealand’s captain Tana Umaga and hooker Keven Mealamu.
Both should have been red carded and that might just have changed everything.
There was too much hype at the start of that tour. This time we need the strongest of officials in charge.
There will be no stop-off on route to New Zealand despite offers from the United States, the Far East and the Middle East.
“There are lots of places that would have loved to have entertained the Lions but frankly we felt there was just too much involved in dragging people from place to place in this instance, given the sheer difficulty of this tour.”
So, bring on the Six Nations and bring on the Lions tour.
British and Irish Lions fixtures 2017
June 3 – Provincial union team (Toll Stadium, Whangarei)
June 7 – Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)
June 10 – Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)
June 13 – Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
June 17 – Maori (International Stadium, Rotorua)
June 20 – Chiefs (Waikato Stadium, Hamilton)
June 24 – New Zealand (First Test, Eden Park, Auckland)
June 27 – Hurricanes (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
July 1 – New Zealand (Second Test, Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
July 8 – New Zealand (Third Test, Eden Park, Auckland).
Image Credit – National Assembly For Wales / Cynulliad Cymru (Flickr)