The 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championships – both the men’s and women’s tournaments – were launched at the Hurlingham Club in London today, with the opening matches now just over a week away.
The final match of the opening RBS 6 Nations weekend sees Ireland face Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday week (February 2), when the home side will bid to gain revenge for last season’s 12-8 defeat at Murrayfield.
Joe Schmidt is preparing for his first Championship as Ireland head coach and comes into it on the back of a November campaign that saw them agonisingly beaten by a last-gasp All Blacks try.
“I think we achieved a lot of things we had been working on in that game. It’s difficult under a new coach, there are new ideas, new ways of doing things,” explained Ireland captain Paul O’Connell at today’s launch.
“It takes a while to become second nature but after three or four weeks we were hitting a good level against New Zealand. It’s a shame we didn’t close out the game like we should have, but it gives us confidence.
“Scotland first up will be a very tough game, obviously we were beaten by them last time.”
This year’s tournament will also mark Brian O’Driscoll’s last for Ireland with the veteran centre, who turned 35 yesterday, set to retire from the game at the end of the season.
“Brian is still going strong,” added O’Connell. “He is in good shape and as hungry as ever, he trained yesterday and is still driving the standards. He has a lot of respect across the whole tournament but particularly in our squad.”
The launch in London also celebrated the start of the Women’s Six Nations Championship with Ireland looking to defend the crown they claimed in style last season by completing the Grand Slam.
Team captain Fiona Coghlan said: “It has been a long time coming. It started with a tough one against Wales and things just kind of steamrolled from there.
“We always knew we were close enough – it was just that extra 20 minutes in a game, fitness and a couple of positions that we probably lacked.
“Everyone wants to hold that trophy at the end of the day and it’s going to be who can be consistent.
“You just never know form season-to-season. It’s your aim to go out and win every game and that’s what you want to do but there are obstacles in the way.”
The Ireland Women’s team, coached once again by Philip Doyle, get their title defence underway on Friday week (January 31) when they entertain Scotland at Ashbourne RFC.