The 2019 Guinness Six Nations and Women’s Six Nations tournaments were launched in London today, with all 12 coaches and captains in attendance to kick two months of thrilling Championship action.
Along with their respective head coaches Joe Schmidt and Adam Griggs, and the numerous national captains, Ireland skippers Rory Best and Ciara Griffin were present to mark the annual January launch at the Hurlingham Club in south west London.
The Guinness Six Nations starts over the first weekend of February, and Friday week’s highly-anticipated opening game sees France host Wales at Stade de France. Scotland entertain Italy at BT Murrayfield the following day, before reigning champions Ireland, who kick off their title defence against England at the Aviva Stadium, bid to become the first team to win back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.
Asked about Ireland being favourites for the tournament, Best said: “It’s something that we’re not necessarily focusing on, being favourites. It’s something that’s external to the group. We met up on Sunday and just basically talked about making sure that we prepare well.
“Over the last number of years, our good performances have come whenever we’ve had really good preparation. On Saturday week it’s got to be no different. To beat a very strong English team we’re going to have to prepare well because we know we’re going to have to play very well.”
Best and Schmidt jetted in from Portugal where the Ireland squad are in the midst of a warm-weather training camp this week. Fresh from the four provinces all reaching European quarter-finals, Schmidt’s men now face two tough opening Six Nations fixtures against England and Scotland.
Asking about the possibility of matching last year’s clean sweep, Best added: “It’s going to be a massive challenge (to try to win it again). There’s a reason, with so many great teams throughout the tournament, that you have to go back to 1998 for the last back-to-back Grand Slam winners (France). That’s because it’s very hard to do.
“For us, I think it is always about making sure we’re right to go. It’s very boring and it’s a bit cliched but we need to make sure that we prepare well and take every game as it comes. There’s no greater game to start a tournament with to sharpen the mind than England.”
Meanwhile, the Ireland Women launch their Six Nations campaign against England, last year’s runners-up, at Energia Park on Friday week (kick-off 5pm). The two-for-one ticket offer has been extended – buy yours now on ticketmaster.ie.
Back rower Griffin, who scored the first of Ireland’s five tries in last Sunday’s warm-up win over Wales, commented: “It’s a great opener (against England). It’s a nice challenge to have at home, especially at Energia Park in Donnybrook. It’s a pitch we want to make into a fortress for Women’s rugby in Ireland, and we’re hoping that a good number come out and support the match on February 1.
“It’s all about hard work and belief in the process that we’re trying at the moment. We’re trying to improve and be more dynamic in our game-plan, keep going with the processes that we have and just look for improvements each match and try to make each performance better than the last.”
Ben Morel, Chief Executive of the Six Nations, said: “For 135 years, the Six Nations has been rugby’s greatest tournament and as we all look forward to the kick-off of this year’s Championship it promises to once again offer huge excitement and fierce competition in both the Men’s and Women’s games.
“I would like to extend a very warm welcome to our new title sponsors Guinness. Guinness have been a tremendous partner of both Six Nations and our Unions for many years and we are delighted to have them on board.”