LONDON (Reuters) - England’s caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster will apply for the job on a permanent basis but his approach to the Six Nations championship will be fully focused on what is best for the long-term success of his team.
Lancaster is one of three new coaches and three new captains going into the competition, which had its official launch in London on Wednesday ahead of the February 4 opening matches.
He has already made a good impression as he bids to clean up England’s act off the pitch and bring some verve to their play following their disappointing World Cup campaign.
England are defending champions but World Cup runners-up France are the bookmakers favourites under new boss Philippe Saint-Andre.
Wales, who impressed so many in New Zealand last year, are second-favourites but have suffered a setback with coach Warren Gatland announcing that key prop Gethin Jenkins will miss their first two games with a knee injury.
Jacques Brunel, taking over Italy’s reins from Nick Mallett, completes the trio of new coaches.
Scotland’s Ross Ford and Paul O‘Connell - standing in for the injured Brian O‘Driscoll - are new captains while England’s replacement for the retired Lewis Moody has yet to be decided.
Lancaster confirmed he would formally apply for the permanent coach role before the mid-February deadline but said the tournament was not about him.
“I love working with players and trying to develop teams and the opportunity to do that at the highest level with England is fantastic,” he said.
“But my decisions will be made solely on what I think is best for England to develop long term into a team capable of getting back to number one in the world - it’s not about me.”
They kick off the Six Nations in Scotland on February 4 and former England coach Andy Robinson has already spiced up the fixture by accusing his old team of being arrogant during the World Cup when they edged the Scots in their final do-or-die pool match.
“You use every emotion, that’s what rugby is about,” Robinson said on Wednesday when asked about the comments.
New skipper Ford declined to be drawn into the row.
“For me the focus now is about earning respect from teams by our performances,” said the hooker.
Wales captain Sam Warburton said the buzz has already started around his team after their uplifting performances in the World Cup.
“We played with no fear and never went into our shells and that will be the message this time,” he said.
“There wasn’t much pressure going into the World Cup but now we’re expected to win the Six Nations and everyone is looking at the final game against France at the Millennium Stadium as the decider.”
Saint-Andre can expect to start his tenure with a home win against Italy - who beat the French in Rome last season - but said he cannot expect to be the man to unravel the mystery of his nation’s rugby.
Defeated by Tonga in a wretched pool phase in the World Cup, France could and probably should have beaten New Zealand in the final as they delivered their trademark Jekyll and Hyde performance.
“This is French rugby for the last four years - for the last 100 years,” he said. “We can be up here or down on the floor and the biggest challenge is to find consistency.”
Ireland will play the tournament without long-term injury absentee O‘Driscoll but are buoyed by their Heineken Cup performances as Leinster, Munster and Ulster all reached the quarter-finals for the first time.
“If we can win the first match then we’ll build a bit of momentum with the lads having done so well with their provinces,” said coach Declan Kidney, whose team are outside the top three bookmakers’ picks for the first time in many years and begin at home to Wales.
The tournament has produced four different winners in the last four years and Kidney said he expected another close battle.
“It’s as tight a championship as there’s ever been,” he said. “It will be very hard to win all five matches and if a team does that then they deserve all they get.”
Editing by Ed Osmond