The men’s and women’s captains at the launch of the Guinness Six Nations Championship in London on Wednesday. From left:   Siwan Lillicrap (Wales),  Giada Franco (Italy),  Luca Bigi (Italy),  Stuart Hogg (Scotland),  Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales),  Sarah Hunter (England),  Charles Ollivon (France),  Owen Farrell (England),  Gaëlle Hermet (France), Ciara Griffin (Ireland) and  Rachel Malcolm (Scotland).  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

With new coaches at Ireland, France, Italy and Wales, the winner will be hard to predict

Top coaches learn plenty from those who have preceded them before going on to forge their own distinctive coaching philosophy. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The coaching fable of master coach and ‘Grasshopper’ conveys a universal truth

A Munster squad session. Over the last two decades, Irish provincial teams have had a number of world class players who have set exceptionally high standards. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

Encounter in Sydney coffee shop recently got me thinking about key to success

A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Lake Conjola, Australia, on the last day of 2019.  Since August, nationally the number of lost homes is over 1,200. Photograph: Matthew Abbott/The New York Times

Death, destruction and polluted air the byproducts of unprecedented bushfires

 Smoke haze from bushfires blankets the Sydney central business district  as beachgoers sit on a cliff on another hot day in Nielsen Park  in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Photograph: Steven Saphore/EPA

Sydney Letter: While fires burn inside Irish homes, in Australia they are raging outside

Those under-12 players made me remember how much fun I had playing the game and how much I loved it. For me that joy of playing morphed into an obsession. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

As a boy in Sydney my hot Christmas morning had a strange ritual – rugby practice

Conor Murray and Ross Byrne: ‘It’s important to also remember why you love to play rugby. Because it’s fun. I would like to see you both playing with the occasional smile on your faces.’ Photographs: Oisin Keniry and Billy Stickland/Inpho

With minor tweaks to their game, the pair can be Ireland’s halfbacks for the Six Nations

Chris Boyd: the wily Northampton Saints coach has led the club to the top of the Premiership table. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

Franklins Gardens is always a tough trip and Saracens could be fully locked and loaded

Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham with Billy Holland: In recruiting Graham Rowntree and Stephen Larkham, Munster have brought in fresh creative thinking and vast experience into their organisation. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Precious little original thinking apparent as coaches embrace the herd mentality

Leinster’s Woodstock 50th anniversary celebratory tie-dye squashed, fifty shades of blue is in the running for the gong in the worst jersey of 2019 category. Photograph: Inpho

Irish provinces must beware of the Champions Cup wolves disguised as sheep

Leinster possess the mindset to achieve success within the unique environment of the Champions Cup. Photograph: Billy Stickland

Blues in box seat with Sarries’ troubles set to exclude them from usual suspects for glory

Andy Farrell will be in charge of Ireland following Joe schmidt’s departure. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Farrell needs to be brave and embrace what is a daunting challenge

In the wake of a magnificent English victory, Steve Hansen, Kieran Read (above) and their New Zealand team displayed astonishing dignity. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

New Zealand’s character revealed by their exemplary sportsmanship after defeat

England players take part in a training session at Arcs Urayasu Park ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. Photo: Charly Triballeau/Getty Images

England coach is in total control of his environment and having fun in doing so

Ardie Savea, Sonny Bill Williams and George Bridge train ahead of Saturday’s clash with Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Schmidt’s side are blunt in attack but New Zealand could fall foul of new tackle laws

A red card is issued to Canada’s Josh Larsen by referee Luke Pearce during their World Cup Pool B match at against South Africa at the Kobe Misaki Stadium. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA Wire

The terrible refereeing at World Cup will hopefully lead to an officiating overhaul

Ireland players leave the pitch following their defeat to Japan. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty

Ireland’s attacking philosophy is outdated as they fail to evolve from the highs of 2018

 Michael Hooper  of Australia looks on after scoring a try against Fiji during the Rugby World Cup match clash  in Sapporo, Japan. Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA

Across the globe rugby is booming however in Australia the game is in decline

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray at the World Cup welcome ceremony in  Chiba. It is time for the iconic Irish players to deliver. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

One strong 80-minute performance can put Joe Schmidt’s men back on track

France’s hooker Guilhem Guirado (R) poses with children at Yamanashi Kenristu high school in Fujikawaguchiko, where the French squad will train. Photograph: Getty Images

With the world watching, I hope our officials have the courage to punish all cynical play

Agustin Pichot: has been a sole voice campaigning for ethical changes to the eligibility laws for several years.   Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

World Rugby complicit in allowing the game to be debased and vulnerable players exploited

Devin Toner wins a lineout during the Autumn International against New Zealand at the Aviva stadium in November 2018. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

His ability to call and manage the set piece should have been an integral part of Ireland’s game plan

Joe Schmidt: Ireland’s coach  must get back his own “whoskabomy” and lead his team like he did in November 2018. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men have to lay down a serious marker against Wales in Cardiff

Ireland’s Conor Murray, Rory Best, James Ryan, Jordan Larmour and Sean O’Brien during the Six Nations game against England at  the Aviva Stadium In February. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

We need to see if Ireland have changed their attacking plan to nullify England

Australia outhalf Christian Lealiifano, supported by Kurtley Beale,  runs the ball during the  Rugby Championship match against New Zealand at Optus Stadium  in Perth. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Gainline theory has been knocking around for 90 years, but done right it’s still mighty effective

 Joey Carbery can become the other playmaker Ireland need.   Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland need another playmaker: opposition know if you can stop Sexton, you stop Ireland

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton celebrates after a late try against Munster in the Pro14 semi-final. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

Province must frustrate Glasgow and land punches when opportunities arise

Munster’s Joey Carbery clashes with Leinster’s Johnny Sexton last year at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Pro14 semi-final winner can move on from crushing Saracens Champions Cup losses

Leinster’s James Lowe during the  captain’s run, at St James’ Park in Newcastle, ahead of the Champions Cup final. Photograph: Inpho

Champions Cup final: Leinster standard in Toulouse win won’t cut it against Saracens

Connacht meet Ulster in a Pro14 quarter-final which isn’t quite a quarter-final this weekend. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

From team lists to six teams in quarter-finals, the rugby numbers game is too complicated

Saracens’ Billy Vunipola is confronted by a Munster fan after his side’s victory in the Champions Cup semi-final at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Folau and Vunipola do not represent community’s views but abusing them no use

A Division 1A game between UCD and Lansdowne at Belfield. Some sunlight needs to shine in the dark places of the AIL. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Pressing need to strengthen ties between four provinces and their AIL clubs

Ireland’s Billy Dardis lifts the trophy and celebrates with team-mates following victory in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier final at Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong. Photograph: Yyu Chun Christopher Wong/Inpho

After years of neglect, our men’s and women’s teams now ready to compete at the top flight

Referees need help in policing the offside line as the current system is  simply  not working. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Space and creativity are being squeezed out of rugby as offside rules are blithely ignored

Leinster’s Isa Nacewa consoles Racing 92’s Teddy Thomas after the latter’s error handed the Irish province victory in the Champions Cup final in Bilbao last year. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

Champions Cup quarter-finals likely to be decided by defences and who makes fewest mistakes

The Millennium Stadium is a daunting venue for any visiting team. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Result of Six Nations decider in Wales could set course for team’s chances at World Cup

French supporters at the Six Nations Championship Round 3 match between France and Scotland at  Stade de France, Paris, in February. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The French team is on an upward curve, but the rich seam of local talent must be mined

Ireland’s muted celebrations after  Conor Murray secured a bonus point against Italy. The body language of the Irish team in Rome was telling. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Schmidt’s exit and the slump in form of Sexton, Murray and Best has changed something

 Conor Murray in action against Scotland; his box kicking has been uncharacteristically poor this year.  Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland must utilise the attacking kick to play the game in their opponents’ half

Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong with England’s Maro Itoje and Mark Wilson at the Aviva Stadium. England came to Dublin to prove themselves, and to regain respect. Now Ireland have to go to Edinburgh and do the same. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Against England we saw that the Irish attack is not designed to chase down a lead

Robbie Henshaw: England will target Ireland’s fullback who hasn’t played in the specialised position for club or country in four years. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Victors will have a massive psychological advantage going into the World Cup

The Ireland players form a guard of honour for New Zealand at the end of last weekend’s match. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Winning the World Cup is not just a dream, it can become a reality

Argentina’s Bautista Delguy scores his try last weekend. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Kiwis want to wipe the memory of Ireland’s win in Chicago from the face of the earth

 Munster’s Peter O’Mahony  during their defeat to Racing 92. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Matt Williams: Racing 92 defeat was the worst Munster performance I have witnessed

The Leinster Rugby Squad at training in UCD, Dublin. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/ INPHO

The demons must be slayed. The last five years of European failure must be revenged

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour in action with  Ryan Elias of Scarlets in February 2018. Photograph: Byran Keane/Inpho

Cullen’s men and opponents Scarlets boast brilliant attacks that can breach any defence

Toulon head coach Fabien Galthie will arrive in Munster under no illusions. Photograph:  Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Toulon need to develop the type of team DNA that Munster and Leinster have achieved

 Bundee Aki: played a key role in CJ Stander’s exquisite Irish try which showed the scale of the team’s ambition on the day. Photograph: Paul Harding/PA

The ambition Ireland showed in sealing the Grand Slam can spur team to further glory

The Ireland squad during training at   Carton House, Co Kildare, ahead of their showdown with England. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland can defeat an ancient foe in London on St Patrick’s Day after being labelled as scum

The consistently high performance of the Irish scrum has been a revelation. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

If Ireland repeat their impressive possession stats it will set the platform for a home win

Steff Evans’s try was an example of Ireland’s defensive system failing. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Everyone in the Six Nations is playing running rugby but Ireland need to get their defence right

Chris Farrell has the toughest assignment of any player at the Aviva, the championship will ride on his  performance.Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Outside centre is one of the toughest positions so Ireland need a smooth combination

 Ireland’s Johnny Sexton looks on  as French players form a huddle following their defeat in the Six Nations clash at  Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

Ireland will expect to convert ample possession into scores against struggling Italy

France  coach Jacques Brunel and his squad during training. They face Ireland in the Six Nations on Saturday. As my Dad would say, “They are Bob Hope’s brother . . . No Hope.” Photograph: Michel Euler/AP

French rugby was a beacon, but with a lack of world-class players, the light has gone out

CJ Stander has been outstanding for Ireland with his powerful running, strong fends and great footwork. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

If Joe Schmidt’s team don’t improve, this powerful England side will demolish them

The volume of noise the Welsh supporters can generate is truly staggering. To call it noise is a gross injustice.  Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

At home, in the midst of song and passion, the red dragon is a very different animal

It was so much fun to watch Eddie Jones and Conor O’Shea speaking without filters to the media after the ruckus at Twickenham. Photograph:  Paul Harding/PA Wire.

A Six Nations so exciting that I can scarcely believe it’s northern hemisphere rugby

Former Australia lock Dan Vickerman died on Saturday, February 18th, aged 37. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty.

Ending of a professional’s playing days can be a difficult transition that must be monitored

Dejected Irish players at the final whistle in Murrayfield. Ireland were overconfident and did not give Scotland  the required respect.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

In Rome only a bonus point win will provide Ireland with the required outcome

Ireland Rugby Captain's Run, BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland 3/2/2017Paddy JacksonMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Six Nations promises to see a return to attacking rugby – and hallelujah for that

Stephen Moore has been an inspirational captain for Australia. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ireland need to stop Wallabies’ traditional running game as Michael Cheika makes his mark

 New Zealand Prime Minister John Key meeting with former New Zealand captain Richie McCaw during his visit to Kaikoura on the South Island’s east coast  following this week’s earthquake. Photograph: Mark Mitchell/AFP/Getty Images

Kiwis seek revenge, hoping to inspire those back home affected by the earthquake

Simon Zebo and Cian Healy after Ireland’s historic win in Soldier Field. Photograph: Billy Stickland

Ireland’s obsessive kicking for territory and working for penalties is hopefully gone

Head coach Steve Hansen has been envolved with the New Zealand management team for for over 10 years. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Ireland have all basic tools needed to challenge the best rugby nation but it will take time

Dejected Irish fullback Jared Payne after Ireland’s late, late loss to South Africa in the second Test of Ireland’s rugby tour of  South Africa on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt has to lift weary team after blowing lifetime opportunity in Johannesburg

Springbok’s Willie le Roux is tackled by Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw and Jamie Heaslip at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Defence won game but signs of more expansive attack is the real cause for optimism

Jamie Heaslip’s first try was an absolute belter. The offload from Simon Zebo (above), like all offloads, shattered the Italian defensive structure. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland thrived for two seasons under Joe Schmidt but have stood still in this campaign

Dejected looking Ireland players after the Six Nations defeat to France at Parc de France last month. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Further decline looks inevitable unless there is a change of attitude and style

Tall tales: England coach Eddie Jones would never think about putting massive pressure on Ireland’s lineout, because if he did, it might ruin Ireland’s platform to go forward. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Nobody wants to see Ireland score tries when they can see a variety of kicks being used

Rob Kearney was the only Irish player to offload against France and even that went straight to the opposition. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

With proper evaluation losing games can benefit Ireland going forward

Ireland’s Jack McGrath in action against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Les Bleus attacking display against Italy last weekend does not bode well for Ireland

 Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt with his team. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Six Nations has lost its international relevance as Southern Hemisphere loses interest

Japan players celebrate their momentous victory over South Africa in the pool section – the Brave Blossoms missed out on a place in the quarter-finals but won the hearts of the rugby world. Photograph: Getty Images

‘Irish Times’ team looks back at an eventful tournament and pick their highs and lows

Victory for Australia will see their hooker and captain Stephen Moore, who lived in Galway until he was five years old, collect the William Webb Ellis trophy. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP Photo/Getty Images

Aussies and Kiwis are the best of friends – but all affection vanishes on the field of play

Aaron Smith: his Otago  Highlanders team  were playing at a tempo way above anything I had experienced. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Constant box-kicking from the scrumhalf not going to trouble Southern Hemisphere teams

 With the Pumas entering the Rugby Championship in 2012, it was the time for decisive leadership and action. Photo: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Without changing to a running game, any hope of defeating the top nations was a folly

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt: “Unless Ireland can find a running game both Argentina and New Zealand seem to be a league above.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

It’s not unpatriotic to question the lack of a cutting edge in Joe Schmidt’s side’s attack

The Italy squad take part in a training session at Cobham RFC,  London. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland can win the World Cup if the backs can start using their footwork and run straight

New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams offloads in the tackle against Argentina during the side’s World Cup Pool C at Wembley. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Rugby league converts Williams, Folau and Burgess have been best exponents of skill

To heap the nation’s hopes and dreams at at feet of Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is wrong. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt has done a wonderful job but team are lacking creativity in midfield

Australia backrower David Pocock makes a break against New Zealand at ANZ Stadium in Sydney in August. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

New Zealand are team in decline, while Springboks are sleeping giants of tournament

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell holds up the Six  Nations trophy alongside his team-mates. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Change mindset from conservatism to entrepreneurial adventure

“Ireland could not cross the line against Wales, even with a maul. We needed referee Wayne Barnes for that. Ireland’s attack was impotent.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Joe Schmidt needs to instil a solid attacking structure to win the really important games

Devon Toner is the most improved player in the Irish team. His defensive work against an intelligent Welsh lineout will once again be crucial.  Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

I want Ireland to win and be successful but I find their style of play uninspiring

Joe Schmidt has cast off the attacking philosophy of his coaching “apprenticeship” and is adopting a pragmatic “forensic accounting” game plan. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty

The laws are being manipulated so running rugby is penalised and a kicking game is rewarded

England’s set-piece must be targeted and a high-tempo running game employed

Jared Payne and Peter O’Mahony of Ireland with Mathieu Bastareaud of France:  Ireland made no line breaks, scored no tries but still won the game at the Aviva Stadium last week. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland won ugly against France because the game’s laws favour that kind of negative play

Players push in a scrum during the Six Nations  match between Italy and Ireland at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Ireland should win with France a shadow of the great creative power they once were

Seán O’Brien emerges at Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the captain’s run. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Seán O’Brien will help with the forwards’ ball carrying but he cannot be alone

“Ireland played great footy and deserved to win (last November), but the kicking was way too much. That’s not how we play. The mindset is a massive difference.”

Six Nations drama largely exists outside Australian paradigm

Tevita Kuridrani of Australia escapes France’s Yoann Huget during their Test match at the Stade de France, Paris on November 15th. Photograph: Reuters.

Australia’s lack of game management may see Joe Schmidt’s side home

Guinness Autumn International, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 8/11/2014 Ireland vs South Africa Springboks Ireland’s Devin Toner, Paul O’Connell and Rhys Ruddock with Bismarck du Plessis of South Africa SpringboksMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Reaction to win against Springboks a little over the top considering how poor Irish attack was

South Africa forced New Zealand to produce a staggering 252 tackles in their recent Rugby Championship match in Johannesburg. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Image

Matt Williams believes Heyneke Meyer has added flair to physicality and it is a masterstroke

French rugby not in a great current state but one lapse in concentration and they remain capable of stealing a match

The English pack clear a ruck against Ireland during last year’s Six Nations clash. “Ireland will need to dominate the English pack with their mauling which was simply glorious against Wales.” Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

The Irish scrum has been superb thus far and must attack the English set-piece with real venom

Andrew Coombs and Peter O’Mahony of Ireland grapple for the ball in the lineout during last season’s RBS Six Nations Championship fixture. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Home side must display character and true grit if they are to slay this impressive dragon

Joe Schmidt talks to his team in November. This Ireland team must find a measure of consistency. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Now is the time to end the team’s swings from excellence to mediocrity

Gordon D’Arcy is greatly underestimated in Irish rugby. It is only when he is absent that people see his real value. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

If the Irish pack are the same soft proposition in tomorrow’s game, they will be torn apart

I am a ‘Quade doubter’ but I have to admit, I have been mightily impressed by Cooper’s performances since his return. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Australia may beat Ireland but their big task is saving the game at home

More articles