Dai’s Six Nations Juggling Act
The Six Nations period presents an opportunity for fans and players alike in what is traditionally the Northern Hemisphere’s showcase rugby event.
The annual seven-week renewal of traditional rivalries over several glasses of Guinness, Scotch, Brains Welsh bitter, John Smiths, Peroni or vin rouge is anticipated by fans across Europe.
Meanwhile, players hope to catch the eye of their national coach, then progress from a training squad into a matchday 23, and ultimately on to the manicured turf of six magnificent stadiums.
The Six Nations period during this World Cup-delayed season is, however, proving to be a very different experience for the Aviva Premiership clubs.
The domestic competition’s October start date has resulted in the temporary shelving of the second-tier LV=Cup, while England’s 12 top clubs grind remorselessly through a ten-week unbroken sequence of league action.
The amount of uncertainty their planning must deal with should also not be underestimated. For instance, seven Wasps players made their respective countries’ Six Nations squads this season, and of that group only Joe Launchbury and James Haskell have been absent from the black-and-gold’s selection calculations for the entire duration of the competition.
Of the rest, only Matt Mullan has failed to win a cap during this year’s tournament – Joe Marler’s double jeopardy reprieve scuppering his prospects of a place on the bench in Paris – while Ruaridh Jackson, Lorenzo Cittadini and Bradley Davies have appeared for Scotland, Italy and Wales with varying regularity.
On the surface, having any of his international players available during the Six Nations would appear to be a bonus for Wasps boss Dai Young, but the huge amount of uncertainty involved is far from ideal.
“I never have any idea who is coming back from the international squads until the Tuesday afternoon before a game weekend” he admits.
“Going backwards and forwards between the Six Nations squads and here isn’t easy for the players either. It is hard to be in two modes for someone like Matt Mullan, who has given it his best shot and wants to be involved with England, then has to adjust when he gets released back.
“Depending on when we play it is difficult for us as well. The players always miss the early part of the week here, and when we played at Northampton on the Friday night it was nigh-on impossible to involve them because they were only back with us on the Thursday. So it is hard, but what we try to do is keep them involved because if they are not playing in the Six Nations they want some rugby.”
Young spends a lot of time planning his selection strategy to factor in rest periods for his players, and he says the Six Nations adds a further unpredictable variable into his calculations.
“It is also important for us not to over-use the players we’ve got left here or under-use the internationals,” he says, “so it’s a bit of a balancing act to keep everybody bubbling.
“What we’re aiming to avoid after the Six Nations period is having a lot of players out on their feet, then some boys who haven’t really played for eight weeks, so we try to manage that situation.
“With someone like Matt Mullan, you also take into account the amount of rugby they’ve played leading upto the Six Nations, so if they are not selected by their country it also becomes an opportunity for us to give them a break.
“I met with Eddie Jones before the Six Nations and he said Matt would be in the mix. It then becomes about managing the squad as a whole and sometimes thinking two or three games in front, as well as considering the ‘what if’ scenarios.
“We’re aiming to have everybody there in good nick for the big push towards the end of the season, so it does have to be managed – but it’s the same every year and you get used to it.”