It is little surprise that the chirpiest, and frankly, most interesting man at the 2013 RBS Six Nations launch was the one with the least experience of the things. Jamie Heaslip, recently named Ireland captain, was a breath of fresh air in what was otherwise a whirlwind of clichés and predictability.
It was a fantastic event, there's no doubt about that. The Hurlingham Club is a grand setting, and RBS put on a good show. You got the impression, though, that players and coaches these days are media-trained until they don't have to think anymore.
Some retrospective analysis would no doubt back up this sentiment. The number of times 'kicking-on', 'momentum', 'consistency' etc. were mentioned, anyone would have thought that the media were trying to catch them out.
This is not to say that what was being said wasn't true, to a certain extent. The English players almost definitely are 'focussing on the first game' at the moment; there's no doubt that Scotland are looking to 'put a poor autumn behind them', and that Wales have discussed the 'ups and downs of sport'. It was all so predictable though.
That was why Heaslip proved such a revelation. Bouncing in through the wrong entrance, he paused momentarily before asking the assembled crowd: "Am I in the right room?"
Laughter ensued, and immediately it was obvious how happy he was to be there. Give him a few more years, and no doubt that enthusiasm for media events will have been dulled.
For now though, when he spoke of wanting to kiss Declan Kidney after being told he was being made captain, or how he was buzzing just to be there, it was a joy to hear. Here was a man answering honestly, not just talking of taking 'one game at a time'. He even mentioned, whisper it quietly, the Lions tour.
To be fair to a couple other of the captains, they did mention that the looming coming-together of the home nations gives the season a different feel. Still, it is unfeasible to think that the players aren't thinking about impressing the onlooking selectors when they run out for their countries in due course.
If Heaslip got captain of the day, there's no doubt France coach Philippe Saint-André wins the award for most entertaining coach. While the fatherly-like manner in which Stuart Lancaster looks at Chris Robshaw when he speaks is admirable, the Frenchman's brutal honesty was most enjoyable to listen to. And all this in his second language, too.
He lambasted the FFR (Fédération Française de Rugby) for arranging league fixtures the weekend before the start of the tournament, meaning his squad has 2 days less than every other team to prepare. His players will also have played an extra game, not only risking injury but also bringing fatigue into the equation.
Later, he likened fly-halves to good wine, proclaiming that they 'get better with age'.
Whilst Saint André and his captain-elect Pascal Papé have brought a degree of stability to a French set-up that is notorious for its inconsistency, that crazy old French flair is still alive and well it would seem.
So, with all the talk out of the way now all that's left is the rugby. Let's hope it is rather less predictable than what was on offer here.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jamie Heaslip