We’re 1 week on from Super Saturday and the conclusion of the 2023 Six Nations. And what an edition it was! We saw Jonathan Sexton overtake his predecessor Ronan O’Gara to become the new leading points scorer in tournament history in what is expected to be his last ever match in the competition. We saw Ireland win only their third Grand Slam in the Six Nations era (their fourth in the entire history of the tournament), despite playing the majority of a half of rugby with no recognised hooker. We saw France let loose against England in a timely reminder of how dangerous the are offensively, while England began life under Steve Borthwick and Wales began the second Warren Gatland era. Scotland gave fans hope by winning their opening 2 matches for the first time in the Six Nations, only to fall away against the Irish and French, while Italy looked better than they have in years, only to end with the Wooden Spoon. And over it all loomed the spectre of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France this Autumn…
And so it is time to bid farewell to the tournament by picking the 15 men who make my Team of the tournament. Let me know how my picks compare to yours!
So without further ado, my Team of the 2022 Six Nations is:
1) Pierre Schoeman: You can always tell when the Edinburgh loosehead has ball in hand from the entire Scottish crowd yelling “Schoe!” And they were doing it plenty this year, as the big man carried 60 times throughout the tournament, behind only Freddie Steward (62) and 11 more than the nearest front row (Ellis Genge). With 244 metres made and broken tackles, Schoeman played a huge role in getting the Scottish attack on the front foot.
2) Dan Sheehan: George Turner’s lineout issues cost him in the fight for this spot, and while Giacomo Nicotera did very well in this area, he did not have the same impact in the rest of the game as Sheehan. Sheehan is one of the new generation of hookers coming through: big and physical but with the pace and footwork to be a threat anywhere over the pitch and a poacher’s eye for the line. His second try against England highlighted exactly why he makes this list, and don’t be shocked to see him regularly competing for this spot.
3) Finlay Bealham: Was given a chance to start with Tadhg Furlong injured and Andrew Porter now considered a loosehead, and took the opportunity with both hands. Scrummaged well, carried hard and generally did such a great job that Furlong’s absence was barely felt. His role in assisting Hugo Keenan’s try against France put the shine on a fine highlights reel. A pity that he was ruled out of the later stages of the tournament through injury.
4 & 5) Thibaud Flament & Federico Ruzza: Honourable mentions here for Richie Gray, who played a key role in the Scottish lineout before injury, and Ollie Chessum, who thoroughly outplayed teammate Maro Itoje and was one of the few to emerge from the hammering against France with any credit. Thibaud Flament not just secured his spot in the French XV with his performances this year but added an extra dimension to their attack with his strong but dynamic running that allowed him to carry in wider channels, and his ability to keep the attack going with a deft offload, while his tries were also the joint-most among forwards, level with teammate Charles Ollivon. Meanwhile, Ruzza was at the centre of the Italian lineout—the most successful in the competition this season—with 39 lineouts won (more than double the tally of the next player) and a further 2 lineout steals (joint second, behind James Ryan – 5). But he was so much more than just a set piece specialist, with 28 carries for 139 metres with 6 broken tackles and 4 offloads helping to create a platform for the attack, and 55 tackles made leaving him joint-third among the Azzurri.
6) Sebastian Negri: He may not do the flashy work, but the Zimbabwe-born flanker will happily do the grunt work to allow the Italian flair players to flourish. You can always rely on him to go into contact hard, whether on offence (58 carries, 277 metres, 11 broken tackles) and defence (45 tackles, 4 dominant tackles). Does the hard work to create the platform for the backs, while also got a try for his efforts
7) Charles Ollivon: The former captain is looking back to his best. Made the third-most tackles of any French player (65 – joint-seventh most among all players) alongside 4 turnovers (2 of them in the tackle). In attack, he continued to show his quality in space, with 45 carries for 219 metres with 5 broken tackles and 5 offloads. His 3 tries were the joint-most among forwards, level with Thibaud Flament.
8) Caelan Doris: Was unlucky to miss out on a spot in my “Top 5 number 8s” article as he split his time in the national team between 6 and , but has now firmly established himself as the starting number for Ireland and a top 5 in the world at the position. Doris is at the heart of almost everything good for Ireland, carrying hard (54 carries for 275 metres, third most metres made among forwards) nd is able to keep play going with well-timed passes either during or just before contact, while also putting in a shift in defence (50 tackles, 5 turnovers won).
Quel 👏 plaquage 👏de folie! Antoine Dupont déploie une force incroyable pour éloigner Mack Hansen de la ligne d'ess… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Champions Cup France (@ChampionsCup_FR) February 13, 2023
9) Antoine Dupont: Honourable mention to Ben White, who took on the starting role for Scotland and was consistently reliable, but Dupont is on another level. While Ireland did well to nullify him, he showed in the rest of the games why he is regarded as one of the best players in the world. Controlled games with his ability to kick off both feet, while remaining both elusive and incredibly strong. May not have scored as many tries as we are used to seeing him score, but still finished with 4 assists and one of his own. His try-saving tackle when Mack Hansen looked certain to score will live long in the memory.
10) Finn Russell: The easy selection here would have been Sexton after leading his team to the Grand Slam, but that feels like giving into the fairytale story. Finn Russell is a magician. While not everything works out, he just smirks off the mistakes and goes again. But when it works, boy does it work, and with the team frequently putting him on the front foot, it was working this tournament, to the tune of 4 assists and key roles in many other tries. Scotland’s hopes lie in Russell and Gregor Townsend remaining on at least professional terms.
11) Mack Hansen: So I generally prefer to pick a left wing and a right wing, but while Ethan Dumortier impressed in his first Six Nations and Duhan van der Merwe continued to show his quality for Scotland, there were 2 clear standouts on the right wing who could not be ignored, so Mack Hansen gets the nod here. A great all-rounder, Hansen has the pace and ability in the air to excel at Test level, but his experience of having played 10 before moving to Ireland shows in his play, as he is frequently found coming off his wing and acting as another playmaker in wider areas to help Ireland expand their attack, while he also holds his own in defence and contributed 4 turnovers.
12) Sione Tuipulotu: Jonathan Danty’s impact on the final 2 rounds after returning from injury were almost enough to secure this spot, but he misses out to Scotland’s Sione Tuipulotu. Secured his spot in the Scottish midfield and now we are starting to really see the best of him. Can carry and hit hard, but also has incredible subtlety, highlighted by a lovely grubber kick assist for centre partner Huw Jones against England—1 of 3 assists in the tournament this season.
13) Huw Jones: Could I really split up “Huwipulotu”? Not on this tournament’s performances! I was surprised to see Jones given the 13 shirt over Chris Harris, but his chemistry with Glasgow teammate Tuipulotu and (perhaps more importantly, Finn Russell) saw the Scot with the Welshest name ever excel. Made ground not just when in space but also through contact, finishing with 441 metres (sixth-most among all players) off just 39 carries, less than anyone above him, and with 15 tackles broken. His 4 tries left him joint-second in the tournament, level with Blair Kinghorn and behind just…
14) Damian Penaud: It’s crazy; Penaud is just 26, but needs just 12 more tries to equal Serge Blanco’s all-time record for France. The wing added 5 to his tally this tournament (the top try scorer) to highlight how clinical he is, while amassing 399 metres (seventh-most among all players), 25 broken tackles and an assist off just 28 carries. Don’t be shocked to see him pushing to be the top try scorer at RWC2023. Oh and for those wondering, Julian Savea’s 8 tries in RWC2015 are the most in a tournament (6 or 7 is the most common tally for a top scorer), so Penaud breaking the French try-scoring record by the end of the 2024 Six Nations is a distinct possibility.
15) Hugo Keenan: The model of consistency retains his place from the 2022 Team of the Tournament. Always seems to be exactly where he is needed in both attack and defence, continually dealing with the opposition kicking game, while his 54 carries this year saw him top the charts for metres made (564) along with 11 broken tackles, 2 tries and an assist.
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