Sport

Former Horsham RUFC hooker gives us the lowdown on this years 6 nations

By Russell Bedford

The 6 nations is fast approaching and for Rugby fans its the first chance this year to see their nation competing for silverware. I met up with former Horsham RUFC hooker Matt Stone to talk about the forthcoming tournament.

England start as favourites and following on from two successful campaigns where they lifted the trophy, is it possible the red and whites could do what hasn’t been done before and win it for a third successive time? Matt seems to think so, “ I think its right we start as favourites with the strength of the squad. Looking at the autumn international series before Christmas, none of the home nations looked particularly great. Apart from Scotland, they are the ones to watch I think.”

With success comes pressure and as England look to make history it could be that the weight of expectation on the players proves to be their undoing, “ No, I don’t think there will be any added pressure on the lads, Eddie Jones (England coach) seems to have installed in the guys that we take each game one by one.”

As in most sport,  teams often field some exceptional talent but have a few weak spots. Look at Liverpool in the premier league, an attack most teams would love to have, but a defence that constantly looks shaky. Does our England team have any areas that give Matt extra confidence or concern? “I think our strengths lie with our forward pack, and having Owen Farrell in any side is a bonus, his kicking ability is second to none and I’m hoping to see him play at 12 with Marcus Smith being given a chance at fly half.”

The squad has been rocked by injuries recently and Jones has had to call in 8 uncapped players, things like this can be of huge detriment to the team as it adapts to change but Matt doesn’t seem to think it will change much, “the talent that has come in is great, we must hope Jones picks the form players.”

So whilst England are favourites amongst fans and bookies alike, Italy appear rank outsiders. Some bookmakers quoting 500/1 for the azzuri to win outright,  “Italy wont be a threat, France will be our toughest game I think but Scotland worry me.” No mention of Ireland or Wales but not being a rugby fan myself I take it as a given that the three teams to watch from what Matt has told me will be England,  France and Scotland.

Reflecting on past glories led us to chat about sporting memories, mine tend to revolve around football, formula one and boxing but as we were covering rugby I asked Matt about his favourite 6 nations memory, “ my favourite memory was when it was the 5 nations in 1991. England won the grand slam, its one of my first rugby memories and has stuck with me ever since.”

I looked up the celebrations on youtube and its safe to say I can see why for rugby fans it  meant something special. Seeing the fans, the trophy and the coverage it gained made it look like rugby was close to being on a par with football. I wanted to know if, as a fan, Matt felt his sport was loosing out on the riches that adorn the premier league and that could the lack of huge levels of revenue harm its development as sponsors, fans and potential club owners look elsewhere? “ the coverage of rugby is getting better, with channel 5 picking up the first domestic live game on terrestrial tv in many years over Christmas.  As a fan id love to see more of this.  Socially rugby carries a great ethos and with local clubs opening their doors to televise games and some local pubs going the extra mile to entertain fans. The Coot and The Bedford in the summer laying on breakfasts for fans wanting to watch the lions games for example. This saw a large number of people that weren’t fans or wouldn’t normally go out of their way to watch rugby join in, even singing the songs and wearing the fancy dress!”

The brief time that we have been able to chat has showed me how much excitement this tournament can bring and on Feb 10th when England play their first game against Wales, I might just check it out.

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