RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool D

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool D

We are just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his all Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations article, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Who are you looking out for during the tournament? And so we make it to Pool D:

Australia

Samu Kerevi may have 20+ caps to his name already, but I would argue that he has never really made a name for himself until this season. Though the Reds failed to make the playoffs this season, Kerevi finished in the top 10 for carries (220 – 1st), clean breaks (26 – 5th), defenders beaten (71 – 2nd) and offloads (26 – 2nd). He has carried that form into the Rugby Championship and has surely secured himself a spot in the Wallabies midfield.

Wales

The Wales squad has been relatively settled in recent years, allowing all the players to establish themselves, but for this I have gone for Josh Navidi. Having competed for minutes with Martyn Williams and Sam Warburton, he is a great openside flanker, who is at home anywhere in the back row – giving Warren Gatland more options with Taulupe Faletau out injured. Dangerous at the breakdown, he is also well accomplished at holding a player up to turn the ball over with a maul and his skills with ball in hand are massively underrated.

Georgia

Vasil Lobzhanidze was going to be my pick here, until I got the chance to watch Georgia’s warm-up matches against Scotland. While watching this, fly half Tedo Abzhandadze caught my eye and I was shocked to find that he was already a regular starter for the senior side despite being just 20 years old. Captain of the Georgian U20s team that beat Scotland and Fiji in the most recent World Rugby U20s Championship, the young 10 showed his range of skills at Murrayfield and controlled the game well. Now the question will be how he holds up in a major senior international tournament.

Fiji

I was going to write about rugby league convert Semi Radradra initially, but when push came to shove I couldn’t ignore Viliame Mata. The Edinburgh number 8 was named Players’ Player of the Year at the end of season Pro14 awards. Part of the Fiji 7s squad that won Gold at Rio 2016, he is an incredible danger in the loose with his strong running and ridiculous offloads. The thought of him, Semi Kunatani and Leone Nakarawa in the pack together is mouth-watering!

Uruguay

Probably one of the hardest to pick due to my own unfamiliarity with the Uruguayans. While I was tempted to go for Gastón Mieres, one of the Uruguayans making a name for themselves in Major League Rugby, I found myself instead picking Felipe Berchesi. Playing for Dax, who were just relegated from Pro D2, he is used to a decent level of rugby, while he has over 30 caps for Uruguay including 3 starts at RWC2015 and also featured at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens.


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Will you be picking any of these players in your squad?

Eyes On: Ireland v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Ireland v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Ireland and Wales faced off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon in their final warm-up match ahead of the Rugby World Cup. With Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland head coach finishing ending in Japan, this was his last game on Irish soil and it had a fairytale ending. Rob Kearney put the hosts ahead with a try, but Hadleigh Parkes’ try and 5 points from Leigh Halfpenny’s boot gave Wales a 7-10 lead. The second half could only be described as a siege as it felt like the entire 40 minutes was spent in the Welsh 22, with Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan crossing to give Ireland a 19-10 victory that earned them the #1 spot in the World Rankings for the first time in their history.

Ireland

Devin Toner’s omission from the Irish squad was understandable given the depth in the Irish second row and his own drop in form, but it was also a surprise for one big reason: Ireland’s lineout has been anything but secure this year. Rory Best, Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell are all highly impressive players, but they have struggled to get consistency when throwing in.

You can imagine that if Paul O’Connell had hair, he would be ripping it out watching recent matches; the lineout used to be such a weapon for Ireland, but it currently feels as likely to hurt them as it does their opponent. The set piece is such a vital piece of international rugby and losing the ball on your own throw as regular as Ireland have been is a big worry. They may be able to get away with it int heir pool, but it could prove costly against Scotland and will certainly be an issue if they make it to the knockouts and have to take on either New Zealand or South Africa.

Wales

Wales have a fantastic defence, but even the best of defences will be breached a couple of times if not given a break. In the second half against Ireland, Wales could not stop defending because they could not get any significant time on the ball. This match highlighted the big worry with the Wales squad that may prove costly int he World Cup: they lack carriers in the pack.

When you watch teams like England, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, France and Australia, they all have a number of forwards who will carry over and over again and regularly make at least a metre or 2 to keep the team going forwards. Even Italy are starting to get this with players like Jake Polledri and Seb Negri. Wales seriously lacked that in this match. Their pack (both starters and replacements) combined for a measly 30 metres, which was only 4 more than Josh van der Flier made on his own. It is this lack of carriers that made the omissions of Samson Lee and Rob Evans even more of a surprise as they are comfortable taking the ball in hand.

Phil, Gez and I all had Wales making it to the semifinals and eventually finishing 3ʳᵈ when we made our predictions for the tournament. If they don’t get their forwards carrying more, they will be lucky to make it past the quarterfinals.


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Eyes On: Wales v Ireland – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Wales v Ireland – RWC2019 Warm-ups

After a week off, Wales were back to competing with a World Cup warm-up match against Ireland. With Warren Gatland’s tenure finishing after the World Cup, this was his last game at the Principality Stadium, but his second string squad found themselves 3-15 down to an experimental Irish side at halftime, courtesy of a brace from Jacob Stockdale. A penalty try while Wales were down to 14 men saw Ireland extend the lead, before tries from Owen Lane and Rhys Patchell closed the gap to the eventual final score of 17-22. This result will see New Zealand take the #1 spot in the World Rugby rankings back, with Wales dropping back to 2ⁿᵈ.

Wales

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Tomas Francis, but in this match, he was seriously missed! Wales weren’t just second-best at the scrum, they were dominated! Leon Brown found himself up against a tighthead who was playing loosehead, but was still penalised at the majority of scrums, leading to him being given a yellow card after just 12 minutes on the pitch. Samson Lee came back on while Brown was in the bin, but even he couldn’t rectify the situation, while Rob Evans didn’t really fare any better on the other side. With such a dominance at the scrum, it was no surprise to see Ireland awarded the penalty try.

I understand at the moment there is a focus from many coaches to find front props who are dangerous in the loose, but the set piece is still a key component of the game. With the Australian scrum looking dangerous of late and the Georgians known for their forward dominance, Wales need to sort out their scrum quickly if they want to advance to the latter stages in Japan.

Before I move on, I just want to address Wales’ substitution during the yellow card period. With Brown going off, Wales had to sacrifice a player to bring Samson Lee back onto the field in order to complete the front row. Despite the scrum struggling, Wales chose to remove flanker James Davies. This meant that Wales were occasionally packing down with 7 men, or bringing in centre Owen Watkin on the flank. While Watkin did an admirable job, it was clear he had no idea what he was meant to be doing and for that reason, I don’t understand why he wasn’t removed (or one of the wingers) and Davies left on, which would have given the scrum more cohesion. I can understand no wanting to go a man down in the back line, but they were doing that anyway by putting Watkin into the scrum, while Davies is a highly mobile player and has high level experience of playing rugby 7s. He has even played the majority of a game on the wing for a 14-man Scarlets team. If I was looking for someone to be a hybrid flanker/centre/wing, then I would pick Davies over any of the backs on the pitch.

Ireland

The old adage is that “form is temporary, class is permanent”. Jacob Stockdale proved that over the last 2 weeks. The Ulster winger shot onto the international scene with his regular try-scoring exploits, but has gone through a somewhat fallow period. With the Irish inside defence not working well last week, Stockdale came in for criticism for flying up to try the man-and-ball tackle when facing the overlap. This week, he looked much better defensively as Ireland dealt with the Welsh attack and looked much more confident in attack. Andrew Conway could have probably finished the first try himself, but Stockdale did the right thing to get up in support and was given the chance to get on the scoresheet, while his second try was a great opportunistic moment as he picked up the loose pass from Aaron Shingler and outpaced the turning Welsh defence to score. Every time he carried in this match, he looked dangerous and it appears he may be getting back to top form at just the right time.

RWC2019 Winner & Losers

While I didn’t think Jarrod Evans had a poor game in the first half, the impact that Rhys Patchell had after coming on at halftime was immense. He controlled the game well and appeared to expand the attack, including scoring one of the tries himself. Able to cover 10 or 15, he has to make it onto the plane off the back of this performance, though whether than is instead of or as well as Evans is a matter for debate. If we assume that Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Liam Williams and Josh Adams are all guaranteed spots on the plane, it is likely that the back 3 in this match were competing for a maximum of 2 places. Owen Lane has had a horrible luck with injuries ruling him out of making his debut until this match, but he performed very well, looking decent on defence and having a good impact on the attack, including the first try. Moving over to the men in green, Dave Kilcoyne looked one of the best players on the pitch until he was removed, making a huge impact in open play both offensively and defensively. His replacement at loosehead, Andrew Porter, was unstoppable at the scrum, causing no end of problems for Leon Brown and Samson Lee. Usually a tighthead, this proof of his versatility may have just guaranteed him a place in the squad.

Staying in the front row for a moment, Leon Brown‘s torrid time in the scrums and lack of impact to make up for it around the park may have just seen him miss out on a place in the Welsh squad. With Aaron Shingler’s return to fitness, James Davies‘ removal during Brown’s sin bin period suggests that he will miss out on a spot in a Welsh back row that is still deep despite injuries to Taulupe Faletau and Ellis Jenkins. For Ireland, Devin Toner‘s chances of making the squad may rely on the competency of World Rugby an the citing officer after a challenge reminiscent of that which earned Scott Barrett a red card and 4-week ban. With Peter O’Mahony looking equally good at 7 as 6 and Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson both able to cover 6 and lock, it may be that Jordi Murphy will find himself surplus to requirements when Joe Schmidt names his squad.


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Eyes On: Wales v England – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Wales v England – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Wales and England’s warm-up for RWC2019 continued Saturday afternoon at the Principality Stadium with the reverse of last week’s fixture. 7 days earlier, England had ran riot to build up a score before Wales could even get going, but this week’s match was a far closer affair, with George North’s first half try –  when England had just lost Anthony Watson to the sin bin – and Dan Biggar’s conversion proving the difference as they emerged 13-6 victors.

This result meant that Wales rose to #1 in the World Rugby rankings for their first time in history, knocking New Zealand off the top spot for the first time in 509 weeks! Congratulations!

Wales

As someone who prefers a more attacking fly half, I may not be the biggest fan of Dan Biggar (especially when he’s appealing for everything and making a fuss), but I respect him as a top quality international 10. However, this week former Wales international J.J. Williams decided to undermine Wales’ World Cup preparations by saying that Wales would not win the tournament with Biggar at 10.

Biggar used his words as motivation this week and put in a great performance. Defensively, Biggar is one of the best at his position and there are very few players – at any position, not just fly half – who are as accomplished under the high ball. Whether kicking out of hand or off the tee, he is highly reliable. What he isn’t, however, is Gareth Anscombe. With both of them, it brought a great dynamic to the team, with Biggar coming off the bench to either seal the victory or put Wales int he right positions to get the wing. With Anscombe now out, however, Biggar is the only top quality 10 in the squad and the running of the entire game will likely fall to him. Biggar starting means that a change in tactics is required, but I think that sometimes this tactic becomes too much of a kick-first game, which can sometime feel wasted – as with some of the early kicks that Elliot Daly took unchallenged. He will not work the back line in the same way, but that does not make him a bad player. He showed as much when Anthony Watson was sin binned by immediately taking advantage of the extra man, catching England sleeping – don’t listen to Ugo Monye, it was entirely legal and he did not have to wait for Watson to leave the field – with a cross-kick to Josh Adams that took them into the England 22, before another cross kick back to the left wing for George North to catch with only Ken Owens anywhere near him.

What did surprise and worry me during this match was just how long Biggar was kept on the field. This was not an experimental lineup that needed to build chemistry, and after losing Anscombe last week I think Biggar should have been wrapped in cotton wool. When he injured his shoulder, he should have been straight off, but it seemed that Warren Gatland was again more interested in winning a nothing game for ranking points compared to protecting his star players ahead of the World Cup. Hopefully it doesn’t cost them in the coming weeks.

England

It feels like we have been saying this for years, but there are questions over the England midfield. George Ford looked good last week with a pack putting him on the front foot, but struggled to create anything in this match, while Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph were anonymous. Even Joe Cokanasiga had a relatively quiet game in attack, rarely being brought into the midfield. As a result, England failed to muster any attacks of note and finished with just 2 penalties to their name.

While having a big carrier at number 8 in the form of Billy Vunipola is a big help, England need a physical ball carrier in the back line to give them regular front-foot ball. Even if they are not taking the ball every time, they will be an effective decoy as defenders will have to account for them, leaving gaps somewhere in the defensive line. England really need to hope Manu Tuilagi can stay fit.

RWC2019 Winners & Losers

Coming in late for his first Test appearance since the match against Australia that saw him get injured, Leigh Halfpenny had a solid game and put in a timely reminder of his abilities as a defensive 15, while Aaron Wainwright built on last week’s performance with a great shift at home, making good metres and keeping attacks going with some good offloads. With Faletau out of the tournament, I think he is a near-certain member of the squad after the last 2 weeks.

Wainwright’s place in the squad may come at the expense of fellow starter in this match James Davies. Cubby is an incredibly talented flanker whose 7s experience gives him a different skill-set to his rivals, however he has found his chances limited in such a deep Welsh back row and an enforced removal just 24 minutes into this match will have not helped his chances of making the 31. Anscombe’s injury may have opened the door for Jarrod Evans to make it onto the plane, however Gatland’s insistence at keeping Biggar on the pitch despite being visibly uncomfortable following an injury makes me think that he is hesitant to bring in the inexperienced Cardiff Blues stand-off this close to the tournament.


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Eyes On: England v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: England v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

England and Wales both got their series of warm-up matches underway with a match at Twickenham. With Eddie Jones selecting the 31-man World Cup squad the next day, England went for a heavily experimental side that became even more experimental with the late withdrawals of Henry Slade and Sam Underhill, while Warren Gatland chose to put out what appeared to be his strongest available squad. Given the selections, I thought that I was going to be in for a long afternoon watching Wales dominate, but instead England came out the gate with early tries from Billy Vunipola and Joe Cokanasiga on the way to a 21-7 halftime lead. Though Wales grew into the game, England kept the scoreboard ticking over in the second half through the boots of George Ford and Elliot Daly, resulting in a 33-19 victory that brought an end to Wales’ unbeaten streak and stopped them going #1 in the World Rugby rankings following New Zealand’s loss to Australia.

England

Remember the name Tom Curry, because he looks like he could be a star of this World Cup and the next 10 years. At just 21 years old, he has become one of the stars of the England squad and has surely nailed down the starting berth at openside flanker. In this game, he cut out the silly penalties that he was conceding in the Six Nations, and replaced that with a couple of great line breaks. He was everywhere on the pitch, to the point that I was beginning to wonder if Eddie Jones had snuck on identical twin Ben in a second 7 jersey – did anyone count the players?!

Fans will be worried about an injury that saw him substituted just 30 minutes into the match, but hopefully that was more a precaution from the coaches as opposed to anything too serious.

Wales

Every time the World Cup comes around, the buildup seems to involve stories about how Warren Gatland’s Wales are going to be the fittest team at the tournament. While their fitness has been undeniable for years, this match appeared to suggest that they have spent too much time working on fitness and not enough time playing rugby.

Despite being almost the same side that won the Grand Slam earlier this year, they looked a shadow of themselves, dropping off tackles left, right and centre – and not just against the big runners Tuilagi, Vunipola and Cokanasiga. The lineout malfunctioned something horrible on a couple of occasions, gifting Luke Cowan-Dickie a try right before halftime. Though they did get themselves back in the game, they never really looked like they would challenge for the win. While this may help them go into the tournament as underdogs, they need to get back to form quickly to get some momentum ahead of their World Cup opener against Georgia.

RWC2019 Winners & Losers

So, as this section is looking towards the squad selections, I will not be looking at England here due to the having already selected their squad before I could write this. I do however want to take a moment to praise Lewis Ludlam, who looked completely at home on his first cap and Anthony Watson, who looked great on his return to international rugby following injury – hopefully we will see him switched to 15 for the next match.

For Wales, there were very few players who came out with many positives, but I think that Aaron Wainwright will be feeling happy after playing the full 80 minutes. With Taulupe Faletau out and question marks surrounding the fitness of some of his rivals, he has a good chance of making the squad. Tomos Williams was a late withdrawal through injury, but if he is fit he will surely have to travel as Aled Davies did little to impress, while Gareth Davies continues to struggle with his kicking game.

The clear loser from this match is Gareth Anscombe, whose World Cup dreams are over after injuring his ACL. He picked up a knee injury early in the game and I felt that he should have been removed immediately as a precaution, but he instead played on as the medics felt that he could run the injury off, which either proved completely wrong or caused things to get worse. Aaron Shingler came off the bench to play his first match since getting injured in the 2018 Pro14 final and while it is great to see him back (I’d heard rumours that his rugby career was over), he looked so far off the pace that it’s hard to imagine him being ready for the World Cup.


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RWC2019: Predicting the Wales Squad

RWC2019: Predicting the Wales Squad

With the Northern Hemisphere seasons coming to an end, thoughts are beginning to shift towards the World Cup and who will make the squads. As April came to an end, Warren Gatland announced a 42-man World Cup training squad, while players currently omitted due to injury still have a chance to make it into the list of 31 players who will jump on the plane.

There may still be a couple of months until the trimmed squad has to be announced, but I thought that it would be fun to test myself and try to predict the 31 players that Gatland will take with him to the tournament. To make it even more fun, I challenged a good friend and cross-border rival, Gez (who supports Wales and the Scarlets), to see who he was predicting so that we could see how similar our thoughts were. This is not a matter of picking the 31 we would take, but rather who we think Gatland will take, so we have tried to avoid any biases we have towards any specific players.


So without further ado, having tried to get inside Warren Gatland’s head, we think he will select…

Hooker

Ken Owens was a clear selection for both of us here. One of the best hookers in the UK, he is a proven leader and I would imagine one of the first names on the team sheet. Both of us agreed that Gatland would only take 1 other hooker (injury replacements can be brought in during the tournament) and the consensus pick was Elliot Dee, who has become Owens’ backup at international level this season.

Prop

The top 4 rather picked themselves here by being the regulars in the matchday squads. Gez and I were in agreement that Rob EvansTom FrancisSamson Leeand Nicky Smith would be the main 4, but we had differing opinions on who would take the 5th spot (both of us are predicting 5 props, in line with Gatland’s 2011 and 2015 squads).

It appears that our difference has come down to which side of the scrum they expect to give extra reinforcements too. Gez has picked tighthead Leon Brown, whereas I think that Wyn Jones scrummaging ability at loosehead will earn him the spot.

Second Row

Having spoken to Gez a little about our picks here, it would appear that we both initially went for 3 locks, but on finding our totals reaching 30 men, chose to select a 4th player at this position. Alun Wyn Jones is the captain of the squad so an obvious pick here, while his Ospreys partner Adam Beard also earns a spot along with Cory Hill. We both found that when selecting a 4th lock, Jake Ball was getting the selection over Bradley Davies, who has fallen down the pecking order at the Ospreys.

Back Row

A harder group to pick due to the number of players currently out injured or just returning from injury. Assuming they can prove themselves fit, both of us selectedJosh NavidiJustin TipuricRoss MoriartyTaulupe Faletau and Ellis Jenkins, which gives a good balance to the position.

Both of us felt that there would be 1 more back row selected, but we had different players in mind. My pick was Aaron Shingler, who was playing so well before picking up an injury in last year’s Pro 12 final. He is still on his way back, but if he can prove himself fit, adds a different dynamic with his ability in the lineout. Perhaps Gez has inside information on Shingler’s health as he omitted him from the 31, but went for his fellow Scarlet James Davies, which would leave Wales with a dangerous set of jackals to pick from each match.

Scrum Half

Both of us were in agreement that Gatland will take 3 scrum halves with him to Japan and it appears that neither of us are expecting some shock early return to Wales for Rhys Webb. With just 3 scrum halves in the training squad, it made it easy for both of us to select Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams and Aled Davies, though I must admit I was a little surprised not to see Scarlets’ Kieran Hardy in the training squad as reward for such a good season.

Fly Half

After combining to win the Grand Slam earlier this year, Gareth Anscombe and Dan Biggar are nailed on as the main fly halves. However, it appears that both myself and Gez think that Rhys Patchell will also make it onto the plane as both him and Anscombe are able to also provide cover at fullback and could also step in at centre if required.

Centre

It’s no real surprise that both of us have Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies nailed on as they have become the go-to centre pairing during Wales’ recent success. With Patchell/Anscombe able to slot in as a second playmaker in an emergency or George North (more on him shortly) able to fill in at centre, Gez and I were in agreement that only one other specialist centre will make the 31.

Gez picked Owen Watkin, who looked good when given the chance in recent Tests, however I went for the more experienced Scott Williams given his experience pairing with Parkes/Davies from his days at the Scarlets and previous internationals.

Back 3

Anyone good at maths or with an abacus to hand will have figured out that both Gez and I have 5 spots left to fill with players from the back 3. Leigh Halfpenny has not been at his best since a lengthy layoff with concussion issues, but he is still a premier defensive fullback and goal kicker, so makes the list alongside Six Nations starters Liam Williams, George North and Josh Adams. And that leaves just 1 spot…

Owen Lane has looked really impressive whenever I have seen him play for Cardiff Blues, but injuries have hit at the wrong time and stopped him gaining any international experience, which I think rules him out here. Hallam Amos is a reliable option but has never been able to hold down a regular spot in the national team and I think the poor form of the Dragons will have hampered his chances. Jonah Holmes gets my vote off the back of his strong performances for Leicester and Wales this season, while he has the versatility to cover the entire back 3 if required as well as being an emergency scrum half. Gez, however has gone for Steff Evans, which I think may have been a twinge of Scarlets bias coming through as he has had a roller-coaster season, but his attacking talent could certainly come in handy against Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay.


So on the whole we had very similar squads, with just a handful of differences between individuals at the same position to round out the squad. I think part of this could be down to Gatland not being quick to change his squad and having quite a large degree of loyalty to players who have been big for him in the past even if they are going through a difficult stage. But will this be the time Gatland decides to shock us…?

Who do you think will make the squad?

Six Nations 2019: Team of the Tournament

Six Nations 2019: Team of the Tournament

With the Six Nations over for another year, there is just one more important job to do: picking a team of the tournament. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and this was probably the hardest so far as injuries and Jacques Brunel’s inability to settle on a team meant that some players had limited game time, while poor matches or halves of rugby harmed the chances of others. And yet despite that, at some positions I was spoiled for choice and could have picked from 4 or 5 players!

So without further ado, my team of the tournament is:

1- Allan Dell: Mako Vunipola was the choice early in the tournament and I genuinely think England missed him after his injury. Rob Evans has been getting a lot of love but the player who stood out to me was Allan Dell. Dell topped the tackle charts for Scotland with 76 (putting him 5ᵗʰ overall in the tournament) but what really impressed me was his carrying in the loose, which was so important for them given the number of carriers they lost to injury.

2- Jamie George: Did the Saracens hooker do enough to cement the number 2 shirt ahead of regular captain Dylan Hartley? In my opinion, yes. George was reliable in the lineout and a big part of the England defence, finishing the tournament joint-3ʳᵈ in the tackle count with 78, alongside Mark Wilson. What really stood out for me though was his pass to set up Manu Tuilagi for a try against Italy… I’m sure there are centres who would be proud to give a pass like that!

3- Demba Bamba: There wasn’t really any standout performer for me in this position and if I’m honest, I changed my mind as I was writing this. Kyle Sinckler was so close to getting the nod, but I swapped to Bamba at the last moment. At just 20 years old and not even playing in the Top 14, Bamba did not look out of place at all in senior international rugby despite having to take over the starting role early in the tournament following Uini Atonio’s injury. Bamba carried 42 times for 54 metres with a whopping 22 gain line successes (4ᵗʰ most of anyone) and 14 defenders beaten. He may have given away the most penalties in the tournament (8, level with Tom Curry) but this will improve as he gets more experience at this level. Watch out for him over the coming years.

4- Alun Wyn Jones: There have been people wondering if Jones has just played his last Six Nations game. If so, then he has gone out on a high. Despite all the off-field distractions surrounding Project Reset, Jones led the team to a deserved Grand Slam and led by example. He fronted up when he needed to and finished joint-6ᵗʰ in the tackle counts with 71 made and just 4 missed.

5- George Kruis: I wasn’t really enthused by Kruis’ selection at the start of the tournament, however he looked back to his best this year. Kruis was 4ᵗʰ for tackles made in the England squad with 67 (joint-11ᵗʰ overall). But his key point was his work solidifying the England lineout, amassing 17 catches himself to finish joint 3ʳᵈ in the table.

6- Josh Navidi: This was one of the hardest to pick from the quality of performances. Mark Wilson was Mr Reliable for England and Braam Steyn was a big presence for Italy. Peter O’Mahony was going to get the spot until his anonymous performance against Wales. Navidi gets the spot here and I would argue he is one of the most underrated players int he Wales squad. The Cardiff Blues back row finished 2ⁿᵈ overall with 83 tackles and 4 turnovers saw him just miss out on a spot in that top 5 list. He does not look huge but he is so strong and smart, leading to him playing a key role in the Welsh defence with a number of choke tackles and I would argue that his ability attacking in open play is underrated, making 45 metres from 30 carries.

7- Tom Curry: Jamie Richie had a great tournament being thrust into a starting role but in the end the 7 shirt has to go to Tom Curry. Sam Underhill’s injury gave Curry the chance to start and it is hard to imagine him handing the shirt over to anyone else now. Curry’s 86 tackles saw him top the charts and he was joint-4ᵗʰ for turnovers with 5. It has been rare that England have had a proper jackal at 7 under Eddie Jones and Curry has been a real breath of fresh air here. 2 tries didn’t harm his chances either.

8- Billy Vunipola: This was a shootout between Vunipola and Louis Picamoles, but Vunipola’s greater consistency over the tournament. Vunipola’s 71 carries was more than anyone else in the tournament and he finished with more metres than any other forward (231m) and 27 gain line successes (3ʳᵈ behind Braam Steyn and James Ryan). England seriously missed him last season.

9- Antoine Dupont: Not involved in Round 1 and on the bench in Round 2, Dupont took his chance and ran with it. He still has areas of him game to work on, such as controlling the game when his pack aren’t on the front foot, but he brought some great attacking quality to the French attack, finishing with 8 clean breaks (joint-5ᵗʰ overall), 17 defenders beaten (joint-4ᵗʰ) and 7 offloads (joint-2ⁿᵈ). Shockingly, he was also joint-2ⁿᵈ in the turnover charts with 6, going really under the radar with his defence.

10- Owen Farrell: This was probably the hardest pick for me. Gareth Anscombe and Dan Biggar split their time which made it hard to pick between them, while Finn Russell had some great moments in a struggling Scotland team. However Farrell gets the nod for me as I feel that – other than the second halves against Wales and Scotland – he was the most consistent of the 10s, while he finished with 2 assists and was the top scorer in the competition with 59 points.

11- Jonny May: I’m a big fan of May so to have seen him grow into one of England’s most reliable players in recent years has been wonderful! May carried 52 times (the most of any back, joint-6ᵗʰ overall) and made 284 metres (4ᵗʰ overall) and 11 clean breaks (2ⁿᵈ overall), while beating 9 defenders. He also played a big part in the kicking game, with his pace allowing him to outrun defenders chasing back to deep kicks and finishing with 23 kicks caught – 3ʳᵈ overall in the tournament. Oh, and there’s the small matter of his 6 tries making him the top try scorer and 4ᵗʰ highest points scorer.

12- Hadleigh Parkes: The stats may not back this selection up as much as some others, but Parkes gets the nod here over other impressive 12s Manu Tuilagi, Sam Johnson and Luca Morisi. The Welsh defence was the cornerstone of their tournament success and Parkes was one of the linchpins of that defence, putting his body on the line to protect the Welsh try line. Man of the Match against Scotland, he was involved in 2 of the Key moments against Ireland, scoring the early try and then bringing down Jacob Stockdale when he looked set to break away and score.

13- Henry Slade: When England were playing well, Henry Slade was shining. Despite having not played alongside Manu Tuilagi before this tournament, the pair worked great together and Slade’s range of skills helped him keep defences guessing and resulted in him carrying 38 times for 271 metres (8ᵗʰ overall) with 12 clean breaks (1ˢᵗ overall) and finishing with 3 tries and 2 assists. Outside centre is a difficult position to defend, but Slade was generally impressive at the position and did a great job of shutting down the channel.

14- Josh Adams: I heavily considered putting Josh Adams into my 6 to watch article ahead of the tournament but in the end he just missed out to Gareth Anscombe. Leigh Halfpenny’s concussion left room for Adams to come into the starting lineup and he grabbed the ball with both hand – just like his try against England! Adams’ 257 metres made (9ᵗʰ overall) and 9 clean breaks (4ᵗʰ overall) were the most of any player in the Welsh squad and he scored tries against Italy, England and Scotland.

15- Liam Williams: Elliot Daly and Jayden Hayward both had their moments in the tournament and Blair Kinghorn was certainly in with a shot of making the 15 spot until he got injured. Liam Williams gets the place after taking over the Wales 15 shirt in Halfpenny’s absence. He may have had a quieter tournament than we are used to, but he was so assured under the high ball (his 24 kicks caught was 2ⁿᵈ behind Daly) and this helped nullify an England team that was looking unstoppable at that point.

So there’s my XV, who makes yours?