Now that the dust has settled on the 6 Nations for another year, there is just one thing left to do: add to the thousands of ‘Team of the Tournament’ articles going around. I have not based this on statistics at all, but have instead tried to put together the team that I felt performed best, though If I do have a stat to back a selection I will be sure to include it, as it makes me sound smarter!
Props: Joe Marler & Tadhg Furlong – The French scrum may have felt the most dominant, but I have avoided picking any of their props as they seem very much interchangeable, so it is rare that we see one of them given a chance to dominate his rivals for his spot in the starting lineup. The Irish were the only team to win 100% of their own scrums so at least one of the Irish props had to feature in here. As well as Zander Fagerson played in the absence of WP Nel, I felt that Furlong’s ability in open play gave him the edge here. For the same reason as the French props, Jack McGrath’s competition with Cian Healy cost him the number 1 jersey in this team. Joe Marler helped anchor the England scrum despite having only just recovered from a broken leg, and also managed to hold onto the starting position in the England line-up once Mako Vunipola returned from his own injury.
Hooker: Guilhem Guirado – Dylan Hartley may have just led his team to back-to-back 6 Nations titles, but he was frequently replaced early in the second half of games and is arguably not even the best hooker in the England squad. Ken Owens quietly went about his business and has been many people’s pick, but I have chosen to go with the French captain here. As well as being part of a dominant French scrum, he was also infulential in the loose, being one of France’s strongest ball carriers alongside Louis Picamoles and Kevin Gourdon.
Second Rows: Joe Launchbury & Jonny Gray – What a difference a year makes for Joe Launchbury! This time in 2016 it looked like he would be fighting for a place on the bench behind the pairing of George Kruis and Maro Itoje. With Kruis out injured and Itoje moved to the back row, the Wasps lock seized his opportunity to show what he could do and was arguable one of the best forwards in the tournament this year. Jonny Gray is just a tackling machine. The Scottish defence soaked up a lot of pressure over the tournament and Jonny Gray was typically at/near the top of the tackling stats on a weekly basis. Aged just 23, I’s likely that he hasn’t even reached his best yet… now that’s a scary thought!
Flankers: CJ Stander & Sam Warburton – Kevin Gourdon was very unlucky to miss out here – especially considering both the players I have picked played on the open side this year – but I could not ignore the performances of these two Lions contenders. Stander broke the record for the number of carries in a 6 Nations tournament (104) and only missed 1 tackle over all 5 games! His performance against Italy was incredible, showcasing his full range of skills whilst becoming the first forward to score a hat trick in a 6 Nations game. This tournament was the best I can remember seeing Warburton play in a while. Freed from the burden of captaincy, the Welshman was able to focus on his own game and proved a nightmare for the opposition at the breakdown. If they can both continue like this for the rest of the season, it would not surprise me if they were in the running for starting the Lions Tests.
Number 8: Louis Picamoles – Ross Moriarty was impressive in the number 8 jersey for Wales this tournament (most notably against England) and Sergio Parisse had his usual moments of brilliance, but Picamoles was arguably the best in this position. With the French scrum often marching forward, his pick-ups quickly put the French on the front foot. And you could always rely on him to make some hard yards, before often offloading when the opposition finally managed to bring him to a halt. With Picamoles missing most of 2016’s tournament and Billy Vunipola missing much of this year’s, I’m sure plenty of fans will be looking forward to the competition between the two of them in 2018. If they face off against each other in Le Crunch next year, we may need to prepare for an earthquake!
Scrum half: Conor Murray – Baptiste Serin impressed in his first 6 Nations and Rhys Webb was hugely influential for Wales, but both (especially Webb) caused problems for their teams with the odd stupid penalty. So I chose Conor Murray for my team. As conditions worsened against France, he took control of the game with his tactical kicking and his influence was clearly missed against Wales after he picked up an injury. He may not be as mobile as the other 2 scrum halves mentioned, but his strength still gives him a good chance of getting on the score sheet and he will always fancy himself from the back of a ruck close to the try line. I have found some positions hard to pick due to the lack of players putting their hands up for recognition, but this was probably the position with the most competition for a spot in my line-up.
Fly half: Finn Russell – Johnny Sexton and Paddy Jackson both impressed for Ireland and Camille Lopez was the tournament’s top points scorer this year, but in my opinion the clear winner here was Scotland’s Finn Russell. Though he didn’t have the best of days at Twickenham (I don’t think anyone in a Scottish shirt did), he really impressed me in the rest of the tournament with his attacking play. After the injury to Greig Laidlaw, he stepped up well and controlled the back line, whilst also being highly reliable off the tee (not counting that kick against France). He is really maturing as a player and is doing a great job of deciding when is the right time to kick for territory rather than starting another attack.
Centres: Owen Farrell & Garry Ringrose – I’ll start by admitting that I don’t see Farrell as a centre, but as a fly half. That said, he was in my opinion the standout centre in the 6 Nations by a country mile (other than against Italy). His kicking both from the tee and out of hand is so consistent and he makes killer passes look easy, like for Daly’s try against Wales. He is also not afraid to put his body on the line and is a surprisingly strong tackler given his (compared to many international centres) slight frame. After the first 3 weeks of the tournament, I was planning to include Huw Jones as the 13, but a poor defensive display from Scotland at Twickenham and an early injury against Italy made me look elsewhere and I hit on Ringrose. Touted as the next Brian O’Driscoll, he may not yet be lighting the tournament up to that degree, but has become a reliable cog in the Irish team and was not phased playing in the Grand Slam game against England. At just 22 years of age and with only 8 senior caps to his name, Ringrose will just continue to get better over the next few years.
Wings: Elliot Daly & George North – One of the few bright sparks in a generally dull England performance this year, Daly is the second player on this list who you could say has spent the tournament playing out of position. Daly used his pace, kicking and handling skills to benefit England, as well as being reliable in defence, which can be something of a weak point for many wingers. His try at the death against Wales was a thing of beauty, where he backed himself against former Lion Alex Cuthbert and beat him to the outside. I really struggled picking the other winger for this list, as I did not feel that anyone else really stood out from the crowd. After playing through injury against Italy (including scoring a long-range try with only one good leg) and with improved performances against Ireland and Wales, George North was the player I eventually settled on. We definitely didn’t see the best of him in this tournament yet he still managed to score 3 tries, putting him as one of the 8 joint-top try scorers . His first try against Ireland, where he seemed to drag half the opposition over the line with him, was an indication of the quality he has, hopefully he can put his concussions and injuries behind him and get back to being the beast on the wing the fans love to watch!
Full-back: Stuart Hogg – Could it really be anyone else? With 3 tries and 3 assists to his name, it’s no massive surprise to see Hogg has been voted Player of the Tournament for the second year running. He has always been a talented player but over the last couple of seasons has taken his game to a new level. He is picking his moments to attack and if it does not look on uses his rocket of a boot to help Scotland win the territory game. He also saved Scotland from conceding twice against Italy with some well executed tackles. He’s been around so long, it’s crazy to think that he is only 24 years old! If he carries on performing like this, it would be hard to argue against him being the best full-back in the Northern Hemisphere.
Do you think I missed anyone? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge