As rounds 5 and 6 of the Heineken Cup roll around in January, the issue of squad selection for the 6 Nations starts to rear its fickle head. Preliminary squads tend to mean very little in terms of match day squads but you still need to be in them. A quick look at France’s 30 man squad or more importantly its notable absentee Francois Trinh-Duc illustrates this point. How French coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s continues to be unimpressed by the Montpellier man’s obvious talents baffles me somewhat but such is the fickle nature of selection. One opinion can make or break a players career. Scott Johnson knows the Scottish players pretty well by now and will have a good idea of what his team will be. It’s fair to say selection is an easier job when your country doesn’t have 30 professional squads to choose from but there are still big decisions to be made.
This season Scotland will have two home games and three on the road with a tricky opener in Dublin. Although a different stadium these days with Lansdowne Road having been rebuilt and renamed The Aviva, my abiding memory from there is from 2006 and Jason White putting in one of the biggest hits I’ve ever witnessed close up. Irish hooker Jerry Flannery’s long blonde hair accentuated the size of the hit as head rocked back and the crowd collectively exhaled in shock. A brilliant moment in an otherwise forgettable game played in torrential rain.
From there it will be back to a packed out Murrayfield to take on England in what is THE fixture to attend biennially. The atmosphere is always a bit special for this one and you can definitely feel it on the pitch. You can also be sure that Scotland will raise their game for this one but one question that remains is whether both sides can rise above the current level of the pitch which is sadly at its lowest ebb. One sprint on the pitch and it feels as though you have just done a set of hill sprints on the dunes at Gullane beach.
Player or spectator, the 6 Nations is a special tournament. Most derogatory comments from the Southern Hemisphere about the standard of rugby are tinged with jealousy. There is simply no finer annual rugby tournament in the world. To believe otherwise is probably missing the point. Sold out stadiums, huge numbers of travelling fans, underdogs and upsets – all ingredients for an exciting few weeks. For the players, momentum is key. Win the first game and you immediately have a happy camp. Weeks in the hotel can stretch the patience and the all-important room-mate lottery takes on greater importance. Fancy sharing a room with a tight head prop who insists on walking around in the nude for 6 weeks? I thought not.