A lot of people are knocking rugby at the moment and it has irritated me a bit.
Hopefully, the can really change the mood. It’s great to be involved again. I love it every year.
It’s been a difficult time for the sport lately, but it has given me so much in my life.
It’s given me an identity and it’s given me a purpose. So I’ve had enough of the doom and gloom around the game. Nothing is perfect, but I want to send a message out that there are a lot of good things in rugby and a lot of great people.
You don’t meet many people in rugby who you don’t like and the sport has so many positives as well as these negative things that there has been a lot of coverage about.
France will go back to basics in their defence of the Six Nations title this year
Now the Six Nations is back and it excites me as much as ever.
What a competition, it’s fabulous.
After Christmas, everyone’s a bit miserable in January, so the Six Nations is something to really look forward to at this time of year.
I used to think that even back when I was playing rugby league. It’s a fantastic, national event where every game is more or less a derby. And it’s the competition I’ve always judged myself on because teams get exactly the same preparation time.
This year, it looks wide open. The teams are well-matched and all of world rugby is like that at the moment, with very, very close scores.
It’s marvellous for the international game.
With France, we’re trying to defend the title and we have to think like we’re back to square one. We have to go back to the basics of our game and make sure they are right, all over again.
You’ve got to remember that some of our guys will have played eight or nine matches for their club since we last played together against Japan in November.
They have come back in after months of all playing in different systems, for different coaches. It takes time to gel again, so it’s important to go back to the basics of your scrum, lineout, kick-offs and all those key parts of the game.
We have some injuries but I’m confident we will cope.
Fabien Galthie put down a challenge to the backs last week in training. He said: ‘OK, who’s going to replace Jonathan Danty? Who’s going to replace Gabin Villiere?’ Those two guys aren’t just important to our attack, but amazing defensive players, too. It was good to see the way the players reacted in the session after Fabien had challenged them.
They tried to play with the same sort of intensity as those fantastic players who are missing with injury.
Of course, as the defending champions we have a target on our heads now, but that’s something we have to get used to if we want to be at the top.
I think this is the first time in history that the teams ranked No 1 and No 2 in the world have been in the Six Nations. That’s fantastic.
Ireland are No 1 at the moment and we are No 2. How much you pay attention to the rankings is your decision but it’s great for the fans.
I’ve been lucky enough to be ranked No 1 for a week with Wales and for two weeks with France, but we all know South Africa are the world champions and that’s what really matters.
France will be wary of England as a lot of players have never won a Test at Twickeham
We’ve got Italy first up in Rome.
They won in Cardiff at the end of the last Six Nations, then beat Australia in the autumn which was a famous win for them. In their next game against South Africa, for 50 minutes they were in a tight contest with the world champions, so we have to take Italy very seriously.
It looks like they will be competitive and dangerous.
Next, we’re playing the team ranked No 1 in the world on their own patch in Dublin. Everyone knows that Andy Farrell, Mike Catt and the other coaches there have transformed Ireland into one of the best teams to watch, and their performance stats are off the charts.
They are an incredible attacking force and their defence is absolutely fantastic, too.
I think they conceded the fewest points on average in the world last year. So they have great defence aligned with a fantastic attacking game, EVDen Eve nAkliyaT and they’ve also got steel. Ireland are not the biggest team, but they’re very fit, incredibly mobile and EvDeN EVE nAkliYat play for the full 80 minutes.
We also have to go to Twickenham and that will be a huge challenge for this French team.
I rate Steve Borthwick highly as a coach and England are always very competitive. In all the time I’ve been involved in international rugby, there’s never been an easy match against England.
Coach Andy Farrell has transformed Ireland into one of the best teams to watch
That will continue and a lot of our players have never won a Test at Twickenham.
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My old boss, Warren Gatland, is back in charge of Wales and they start at home against Ireland, which is going to be a rip-roaring game. Whoever wins is going to get momentum. Gats would always say: ‘If we get early momentum in the competition, we can win it.’ And the whole of Wales would get behind them.
I tell the French guys: ‘Forget the Wales you see on the summer tour and in the autumn. The Six Nations is what the emphasis is on in Wales and the whole country comes alive for it.
So you have to be ready for a war against them.’
They’re going to be our last match, it’s in Paris, EVDEn eVe NaKLiyaT and I know that’s going to be some game.
Stats must support change
In the build-up to this Six Nations, there’s been a lot of talk about lowering the legal tackle height.
For EvDEN EvE naKliyAt me, it’s all about having the data to support what they are doing, like there was for the scrum changes.
We all think scrums go on too long, but there aren’t so many guys having neck or back surgery after they retire, like in the old days.
There are statistics to say that what they’ve done has made a huge improvement to the health of the players involved in scrums. If we can have statistics to show that the lower tackle will have a similar impact in making the game safer, then obviously we’ll all get behind it.
As a defence coach, one thing I will say is that it’s very difficult to practise lower tackling without players being injured — either the carrier who falls on to his ankles, or the tackler who might get a whack on his head from a knee.
So we have to think long and hard about how we can safely practise lower tackles, if that’s the way the game is going.