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Tony Ward: Let's throw off the shackles - my Six Nations wish list

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Former Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea will be hoping his Italy team can prosper Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Former Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea will be hoping his Italy team can prosper Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

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Former Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea will be hoping his Italy team can prosper Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

With due respect to schools and club rugby, they represent the calm before the storm as the Six Nations comes firmly into view. Just days to go and already anticipation is at an unprecedented high, particularly in this neck of the woods.

The balloon could be deflated very quickly, though, with a giant banana skin in Ireland's path on day one. Unless we hit the ground running in Murrayfield, our Grand Slam ambitions will fall at the first hurdle.

This opener is fraught with danger, as Glasgow in particular continue to take Scottish rugby to new levels of respectability.

And bear in mind that Edinburgh are also in the European knockout stages, albeit in the shadow Challenge Cup.

And lest we forget, the Scots - under the guidance of their wily coach Vern Cotter - were the best of a bad Six Nations lot at the last World Cup; 15 months on, the Northern Hemisphere landscape has changed dramatically, particularly in terms of style of rugby - and therein lies one of my main hopes for the Championship.

If the World Cup dominance of the Southern Hemisphere teams taught us one thing, it is that without a sense of sensible adventure, we in this part of the world are going nowhere.

We have the best competition behind the World Cup, yet most of the rugby in recent years has been of the puke variety.

The introduction of the bonus point system, as used in every other meaningful competition across the globe, is not a magic wand but it's sure going to encourage a mighty push in a more adventurous direction.

Mindset

And where there's a will there's a way: as Ireland showed in Soldier Field, when the mindset is right, with the right preparation anything is possible.

Yes of course there's still a place for the brain-dead box-kick and wing chase, and yes the maul remains a vital weapon, given that god-awful law which makes it so hard to halt legally.

When it comes to innovation on a horses for course basis, we have the best in the business charting our course. Joe Schmidt will make the right noises about winning being everything, but he will be fully aware of the importance of bonus points now that the system is finally in place.

My other main desire surrounds the interpretation of new edict in relation to high tackling. I am all for it, in principle.

The challenge is for match officials to apply it sensibly. As we are seeing in the Pro12 and Champions Cup, it is a tricky bedding-in process.

Already I detect rugby's equivalent of soccer's 'simulation', but instead of the player diving and conning the referee, it is the crowd reacting to any tackle remotely close to chest height, thereby provoking the referee (who is only human) to refer to the TMO.

And note when the replays are then shown on the big screen how the level of noise from the stands grows each time the suspect tackle is shown, thereby ramping up the pressure on the referee.

Rugby prides itself on having laws as distinct from rules. Some might call it snobbery, but the logic is in allowing the referee to interpret as he goes.

Either way, the new edict asks a lot of match officials, and here I would plead with touch judges to give the man in the middle a much better dig-out than we have generally been witnessing.

Beyond that, I'd like to see France under Guy Noves return to the flair, the panache, the derring-do that made Gallic rugby so special.

I would urge the same of Rob Howley with Wales, and hope to see Jamie Roberts (to name but one) perform like the player we know he can be and not a clone of Mathieu Bastareaud.

Door-bashing has its place but give me the lock-pickers every time. I grew up watching the Welsh and French at their running best and certainly they had a huge impact on this wanabee at the time.

On a personal level I would love to see Conor O'Shea and Stevie Aboud make Italy a meaningful force beyond an occasional home win every alternate year.

Oh yeah, and for Ireland to do the Grand Slam.

Irish Independent


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