This is a special time of year for rugby fans. The chill in the air, the long nights, the imminent threats of snowmageddon – they can only mean it’s RBS 6 Nations season.
For one man, that excitement will never go away. Despite not having played for his country since the warm-up matches ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Richard Hibbard will be competing in every scrum, throwing every lineout and taking every hit, just as he did in his 38 caps for Wales, but on the TV. So there might be no finer man to ask about the prospects for the 2017 tournament.
Eddie Jones has come out recently and suggested that the early rounds of the championship see too many teams going out to avoid defeat. Will the introduction of bonus points change the way the tournament is played? Hibbard certainly thinks so.
“I think a competition without a bonus point system gives you no incentives to play open flowing rugby pushing for lots or tries. As an ex-coach of mine once said “an ugly win, is better than a pretty loss”. But with a bonus system it definitely gives teams a nudge to really go for the tries.”
Cast your mind back to the final day of the 2015 tournament. Ireland, England and Wales were in contention for the title going into the last round of fixtures. What ensued was one of the most compelling, outrageous days in the history of the 6 Nations. That’s something that we could see more of going forward according to Hibbard.
“You can see how exciting it can get when teams are pushing for the points difference scores on the last day of the tournament – there’s going to be more to play for more often.”
Wales are never far from the Gloucester man’s mind – does he think Wales can recover their 6 Nations magic after a mixed 2016? “I think Wales got a lot of stick during the autumn internationals, for so many different reasons” Hibbard said. “But at the end of the day, they still got 3 wins out of the 4 games and really gave a lot more experience to some of the squad. A lot of boys are finding some great form in the Pro12, so I really do expect a great challenge from them.
One of those that Hibbard alludes to is Justin Tipuric. “I saw an outrageous stat this week – Tips has made 160 tackles and not missed one! You have your usual big names – (new Wales captain) Alun Wyn Jones, who is in amazing form for the Ospreys, the man is just a machine – and (Dan) Biggar, who's Mr Professional and such a controller of the game.”
It’s clear that Hibbard’s passion for Welsh rugby has not been dulled from being out of the squad. When the RBS 6 Nations begins, he will be glued to the television like any other fan. Unless of course his phone rings before then…
The only guarantee this year in the RBS 6 Nations is that every game will use a Gilbert Match-XV Ball. Gilbert are the official ball supplier of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales, and are used in each of those country’s home matches. That means that every game in the 2017 tournament will be using Gilbert. Gilbert are also the official the official ball supplier of Australia, South Africa, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, United States, Canada and many more.
Get the Match-XV Ball here