Many great captains have graced the hallowed grounds of the Six Nations in the past few years. Paul O’Connell and Rory Best led Ireland to Championship titles; Alun Wyn Jones has been a towering figure of leadership in the Welsh second row for years Sam Warburton led Wales to their last title in 2013. Dylan Hartley inspired England to a Grand Slam, and a subsequent Championship title in 2016 and 2017, Sergio Parisse spent a lot of years single-handedly dragging Italy through games. One man who does not get the plaudits of many of his compatriots, is the long-suffering France captain and hooker and Guilhem Guirado.
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The Toulon hooker is probably one of the most underappreciated players in rugby, purely for having the misfortune to be playing on probably the worst, most disorganised French team in history. Guirado is France’s most consistent player and a lot of the time, the only one who seems to care. He is the leader French rugby desperately needs and yet this was not enough for Jacques Brunel.
It has been reported that after France’s disastrous loss to England, Jacques Brunel and FFR vice-president Serge Simon attempted to strip the captaincy from Guirado and hand it over to Jefferson Poirot. The players spoke up against it, and the plan didn’t gain any traction. Proof if any more were needed, that Jacques Brunel needs to be sacked. What is the logic of it? Guirado is the one cog in the French rugby machine that is operating at full capacity, so naturally, the best idea is to get rid of him? There is a French saying “a touché le fond, mais creuse encore” which translates to something to the effect “hit rock bottom, but keep digging”, and it perfectly befits French rugby currently.
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The Montpellier bound man is potentially the best hooker in the world but gets lost because he’s part of a shambles of a French team. Malcolm Marx has such incredible ceilings but has inconsistencies, Dane Coles has had his injury trouble and needs to find form again, and Codie Taylor is very good but is also part of a winning All Blacks team. Guirado is a serious machine, with an endless engine who tackles, carries, clears out, and leads from the front. He is the most important player in this French team. Imagine the reaction if Joe Schmidt decided to drop Peter O’Mahony? Imagine Alun Wyn getting dropped by Warren Gatland? Guirado is probably the only international player you would feel sorry for. Imagine living out your boyhood dream, captaining your country in the Six Nations, but its with this French team. Then to make matters worse, having your moron of a coach rip that dream away from you for absolutely no good reason.
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This whole debacle, and France’s recent performances show that Brunel has no sense of player or people management. Even the very fact that his wanting to change the captaincy being was shot down by the players shows that he has lost the dressing room. The players clearly don’t respect the coach. Brunel has all of the hallmarks of a weak man who got the job based on his connections. He has systematically and categorically failed to bring anything even remotely approaching a cohesive game plan for his team, let alone trying to innovate tactically, utterly flailing around, blaming everyone but himself, and making progressively more erratic decisions in an attempt to preserve or justify keeping his job. Embed from Getty Images
Jacques Brunel belongs with the likes of Eddie O’Sullivan, or Clive Woodward; his time is past. He is a rugby dinosaur who has no business anywhere near an international team, and needs to be sacked. A coach like Ben Ryan would be perfect for France. The team culture he cultivated with the Fiji Sevens squad was incredible, and did great things for with no resources.
France travel to Rome on Super Saturday, and given the French tendency not to get off the plane when they go abroad, Conor O’Shea will be targeting this for his first win in the Six Nations. It may be the best thing for French rugby if they lose this game. Lose this game, and maybe more cracks begin to show in Brunel’s grasp on the team.
Guilhem Guirado is a warrior and will continue to put his body on the line for his country, and at the end of every game the camera will pan to him, and he will look into the distance, wondering why he bothers at all. Embed from Getty Images
A recent Twitter debate summed it up well. The question was asked “Which player from another Six Nations side would you take for your country?” to which one user replied “Guilhem Guirado; just so he doesn’t have to suffer through playing for France anymore” Embed from Getty Images
Pivac names squad for 2021 Six Nations
The squad features one uncapped player, Scarlets back-row Josh Macleod, who was named in the autumn squad last year but didn’t feature after picking up an injury before the campaign began.
Four players who made their international debuts in that campaign, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Johnny Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit are all included.
Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones and Rhodri Jones (last appearance for Wales v South Africa in 2018) are named as the looseheads in the squad with Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias and Ken Owens (who missed the autumn campaign through injury) the hookers. Leon Brown, Tomas Francis and Dillon Lewis are the three named tight-heads.
Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Will Rowlands and Cory Hill are included as the second-rows.
Dan Lydiate returns to the international set-up (last appearance v Australia in 2018) and is named alongside Josh Navidi, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Macleod and Justin Tipuric.
Hardy who made his debut back in November is named as one of three scrum-halves along with Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams, who has returned from injury. Dan Biggar, Jarrod Evans and Sheedy are the three fly-halves.
Johnny Williams, Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins and Owen Watkin are named as the centres with George North, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Rees-Zammit, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams named as Wales’ back-three options.
“We are hugely looking forward to meeting up as a squad on Monday and to the forthcoming campaign,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.
“The Guinness Six Nations is an important tournament and we have selected a squad accordingly.
“As we consistently spoke about, the autumn for us was about opportunity and development, looking ahead to RWC 2023 and it served that purpose for us.
“This campaign is different, it is tournament rugby and we are excited to get going and to play our part.
“We have picked a squad for this tournament based on form and we are excited to meet up on Monday and to get our preparation underway.”
Scotland name Six Nations squad.
The group, split between 20 forwards and 15 backs, sees eight new players called up who did not feature in the group that contested the recent 2020 Autumn Nations Cup.
In the pack Glasgow Warriors hooker George Turner is selected and joined in the front row by Zander Fagerson and Oli Kebble from Glasgow Warriors, alongside Edinburgh Rugby representatives WP Nel, Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan.
Glasgow Warriors’ lock pairing Richie Gray and Scott Cummings, Exeter Chief, Jonny Gray are called up, along with Edinburgh’s Grant Gilchrist who left the ANC squad with an injury before the opening match.
Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie, who have both recently re-signed to long-term deals to stay at Edinburgh Rugby, are joined as back-row options by Glasgow Warrior Matt Fagerson and Scarlet’s Blade Thomson.
Gregor Townsend has chosen just two scrum-half’s for this campaign with Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price and Harlequins’ Scott Steele selected.
Linking up at half-back will be Racing 92’s Finn Russell who returns following an injury sustained in the concluding match of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations vs Wales and Edinburgh’s Jaco Van de Walt who made his Scotland debut in the ANC semi-final against Ireland.
Gloucester’s Chris Harris, Saracen Duncan Taylor, Glasgow Warrior Huw Jones and Harlequins’ James Lang are selected at centre.
In the back three Scotland Captain Stuart Hogg is joined by Edinburgh Rugby trio Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham and Duhan van de Merwe and Saracens’ Sean Maitland.
With an eye to the future three additional players have been invited to train with the squad during the campaign. Edinburgh Rugby back row forward, Rory Darge, Glasgow Warriors pair winger, Rufus MacLean and scrum-half, Jamie Dobie will join up with the squad, which goes into camp on Sunday.
Speaking on the squad selection Gregor Townsend said: “As coaches we have selected a group which we believe can build on the work our players put in throughout the recent Autumn Nations Cup campaign and kick on again in terms of performance levels.
“The depth we have across the squad enables us to bring in some new players who have excelled in recent weeks and others who we believe can perform at Test level.
“Our tournament gets off to a fantastic start with a fixture we look forward to every year against England and the opportunity to win back the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham.
“We are very aware how different this year’s competition will be due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it also provides a huge amount of positivity and enjoyment for millions of supporters and we are looking forward to contesting every match and giving this championship our very best.”
Paul O’Connell Joins Ireland Coaching Group
Former Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has joined the Ireland national coaching group as forwards coach with Simon Easterby to focus on defence.
Paul was capped 108 times by Ireland and captained the team to Six Nations success in 2014. O’Connell’s distinguished playing career also included seven Test match appearances for the British & Ireland Lions across three tours and two Heineken Cup titles with Munster.
Since retiring from playing in 2015, Paul has held coaching positions with the Munster Academy, Ireland Under-20s and Top 14 side Stade Francais.
“I am really looking forward to working with Andy and the rest of the coaching group. I worked with Simon as a player and am looking forward to working with him again. It’s an exciting young group of players to be involved with and there are talented forwards coming through across the four provinces that will no doubt be pushing for international selection in the coming months and years.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commented:
“Paul brings a wealth of rugby knowledge with him and as forwards coach he will have responsibility for the forwards including the line-out working alongside John (Fogarty). He will also be another strong voice and leader within the group.
“Simon (Easterby) has a real passion for defence and having developed Ireland’s forward play over the past six years with the additional responsibility for the defence over the past 12 months, he will now be able to focus his energy and rugby intellect on this area of our game.
“The weekend’s Interpro games and the European fixtures in the weeks ahead will give players the opportunity to push for selection for the Six Nations squad. The squad will not be selected until after the Champions Cup Round 4 fixtures have been completed.”
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented: “Paul is a young Irish coach with a huge amount of international rugby experience. We have been keen to find the right opportunity for him within Irish Rugby and we think the fit with the national squad will work well. He joins the national coaching group with immediate effect as they prepare for the upcoming Six Nations Championship.”