Six Nations Preview: 5 live Sport
By BBC Sport producer Steve Jones: The events of the Rugby World Cup have left us with one of the most intriguing Six Nations in years, with experts struggling to predict the opening weekend, let alone an eventual winner.
Matt Dawson – who has beaten Scotland at Murrayfield, and lost there as England captain when chasing a Grand Slam – will present a special preview programme from Edinburgh on Thursday night in 5 live Sport, which will be available on the red button and here on this website. He says he can’t wait for the championship to get underway.
“Every year the tournament is so unpredictable and the Grand Slam is so elusive. Underdogs become more dangerous than favourites and a team on paper is somewhat irrelevant.”
The programme will come from Watsonians Rugby Club in Edinburgh, where so many Scotland internationals have played. It’s also where the BBC’s rugby union correspondent Ian Robertson made his name, and where Sir Chris Hoy used to play at outside-half before he realised he was such a good cyclist.
Matt Dawson’s house band will be the Stockbridge Pipe Band, so expect to hear “Flower of Scotland” and “Scotland the Brave” played with vigour.
Another of Matt’s guests will be Scotland head coach Andy Robinson, who stands by his “arrogant England” comments ahead of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup. “We have to start winning” he says, and victory over his former employers would be a great start.
The man currently in charge of England (and for how long we’re not sure) has a new captain, some fresh faces and Charlie Hodgson. Stuart Lancaster’s “new England” will be thrown in at the Murrayfield deep end, but for all the talk of changing attitudes and new-found passion, in sport we’re reminded that teams are “only as good as their last game”. England’s last match in Auckland led to the demise of Martin Johnson.
There are other big names missing from this year’s championship as well, not just Johnson.
Wales are young, hungry and have momentum from their time in New Zealand. What Wales don’t have is the retired Shane Williams, their record try scorer– so often their magician when rabbits needed removing from hats.
The Heineken Cup tells us plenty about the Irish challenge. Munster, Leinster and Ulster are among Europe’s elite, which should fill Dublin’s home dressing room with confidence on Sunday for their opener against Wales. There’ll be no pre-match team talk from Brian O’Driscoll, though - Ireland’s talisman is injured, but Declan Kidney has named so many potential heroes in his squad.
France are still France - ever unpredictable, just with a new coach this time around. Philippe Saint Andre has replaced the mad/genius (delete where applicable) Marc Lievremont and has named a strong side for the opening match against Italy - who memorably beat the French last year.
Without Lievremont, Johnson, O’Driscoll or Williams there could be a new name written into the history of this most prestigious of championships. Who that figure could be, only the next few dramatic weeks will tell us. Matt Dawson believes the games certainly bring out the best in players:
“ Playing for your country in a competition steeped in so much history produces superhuman performances and dazzling displays of brilliance.”
And it’s not just a special time of year for those on the pitch. There’s always plenty of friendly rivalry amongst fans which gives the tournament its unique feel.
“The car park picnics, supporters swigging on hip flasks and mingling in the pub swapping kilts for berets. What can sometimes be a chilly miserable time of year flies by”, he says.
Amongst Matt’s other guests will be Brian Moore, Gavin Hastings and Chris Paterson.
The Six Nations preview is on air from 7.30pm on Thursday night - you can listen to the show on BBC Radio 5 live, via the red button or here on the 5 live website.
Steve Jones is a BBC Radio Sport producer.