We are now 1 week removed from the end of the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup, and so the only thing left to do is pick my Team of the Tournament. This year’s competition was far from perfect, with COVID-19 causing all of Fiji’s pool games to be cancelled, very little prep time for the Georgians and a player usage agreement with the Top 14 leaving the French only able to use each player a couple of times – leading to them playing their final with an inexperienced squad of fringe players.
Of course, this did not help for picking a team of the tournament as some players only featured in 1 match, whereas others got the full 4 matches, and I have generally chosen to give more credit for consistency than a great one-off performance.
As always, I’d love to hear who you would pick, but without further ado, my Team of the 2020 Tri Nations is:
1) Danilo Fischetti: It’s so great seeing an Italian prop putting in great performances again! The Zebre prop has secured the number 1 jersey for the Azzurri over the last year with a number of powerful performances. Fischetti throws his weight about in defence but also has the control of his body to stay on his feet and lock in over the ball to win a number of turnovers.
2) Jamie George: The England pack is an absolute beast, and Jamie George is certainly a grateful beneficiary of that, being able to hang on at the back of the maul to drop over the line for simple tries. However, he plays a key role in setting this up with his reliability at the set piece, while he is also a solid defender who is also comfortable with the ball in hand.
3) Kyle Sinckler: Sticking with the England pack and Kyle Sinckler gets the nod here as part of a front row that demolished all that challenged it. The Bristol tighthead has always had the talent but has matured and cut out the stupid penalties, to make himself a real force in the game.
4) Maro Itoje: I’m not the biggest fan of the England lock as he gives away some truly brainless penalties an should be penalised much more often, but even I can recognise that he is a phenomenal player and when he gets it right, he gets it very right, with a number of turnovers and constant hassling at the opposition lineout.
5) James Ryan: I certainly found it hard to pick a second player here, but instead settled on James Ryan. Similar to Itoje, I am not as high on him as the rest of the world seems to be, and the issues with the Irish lineout certainly don’t help, but he has an engine on him and will continually put in the hard carries and tackles.
6) Jamie Ritchie: The Scottish flanker is a constant nuisance, there is no finer praise I can give. Dangerous at the breakdown and a threat with ball in hand when there is space in front of him, you can always rely on him to put in consistent performances.
7) Justin Tipuric: The Welshman was one of the few positives for Wayne Pivac’s men and like Ritchie, you always know that you’re going to get a 110% performance from him. We always know that he is dangerous around the breakdown, but this tournament also gave us a timely reminder of just how dangerous he is carrying in space.
8) Caelan Doris: I really enjoy watching the Leinster back row play, as he provides such a reliable carrying option for Andy Farrell, able to make the hard yards in tight, but also able to open up his stride in wider areas to make the big metres. He’s the kind of player who will take Ireland to the next level.
9) Antoine Dupont: Dupont is without a doubt one of the best scrum halves in the world and an absolute joy to watch. He may have had limited minutes in the tournament, but does so much with his time on the pitch that he still set himself above everyone else, helped in part with a number of teams lacking consistency at the position during their matches.
10) Matthieu Jalibert: Jalibert looks to be locked in as the back-up to Romain Ntamack for now and certainly needs to get more experience at international level, but looked very promising during this tournament. He continued the running of the French attack in Ntamack’s absence an was reliable off the tee, being a key part of France’s run to the final, where his injury proved costly.
11) Duhan van der Merwe: Scotland’s new 6′ 4″ wing gives an extra dimension to their attack. Allowed the freedom to come looking for the ball, van der Merwe gives a physical option in the back line, while still having the pace to take advantage of any clean air, and the brain to create great attacking opportunities with snipes around the breakdown or clever running lines.
12) Merab Sharikadze: Many may be surprised to see a Georgian make the list, but the Lelos’ captain led by example throughout the tournament and constantly provided a staunch defensive barrier to hassle opponents.
13) Chris Farrell: The Munster centre took his chances to play with aplomb, providing a solid defence while being arguably one of their better players in attack, though his chances were much more limited with Ireland’s territory-focused gameplan when Ross Byrne was at 10.
14) Hugo Keenan: The new man on the scene for Ireland has surely secured his place in the Irish back 3. Comfortable under the high ball and with good footwork, Keenan provides reliability at the highest level while also bringing a genuine attacking threat.
15) Brice Dulin: Arguably one of the biggest beneficiaries from the match limit agreement between the Top 14 and the French national team, Dulin was given the chance to show his quality against Italy and England. His silky footwork made him dangerous in space and his high bomb added another weapon to the French arsenal.