Six Nations XV: 2000-2018
OPINION: Selecting is a passport to arguments, and agreeing with selectors a rare occurrence, but we are going to set out to choose a Six Nations XV.
The Six Nations started in 2000. Before that the International Championship was made up of fewer countries. Choosing only from 2000 onwards makes life easier, as it saves having to assess the relative merits of Adrian Stoop, Jacky Kyle, Barry John and the Jonnies, Wilkinson and Sexton. It also means no place for Lord Wakefield of Kendall, John McBride, John Currie and David Marques, Gordon Brown and Benoît Dauga.
The selectors have done some serious thinking and can guarantee complete objectivity, certainly no bias, no favouritism or antipathy.
In their minds and memories, the selectors have had trials which have ended in their team, with which not anybody else will agree. But then individual selectors would not agree 100 percent with the team they, as a group, have chosen. But what it does mean is that the players chosen are all outstanding players.
Fullbacks: Mike Brown, Elliot Daly, Brice Dulin, Stuart Hogg, Rob Kearney, Maxime Médard, Geordan Murphy
We have looked for courage, vision, the ability to turn defence into attack and a long boot to get you away from trouble.
Choice: Stuart Hogg of Scotland
Wings: Philippe Bernat-Salles, Tommy Bowe, Ben Cohen, Mark Cueto, Christophe Dominici, Shane Horgan, Sean Lamont, Kenny Logan, Jonny May, George North, Emile Ntamack, Chris Paterson, Jacob Stockdale, Liam Williams, Shane Williams
Above all they are there to score tries – finishers. Defending, for example catching the high ball that boring scrumhalves lob their way, also helps.
Choices: Shane Williams of Wales, small body, huge heart, clever feet and acceleration, and Jonny May of England, a rugby alchemist who can turn nothing into gold, able to make his own chances – but then he has had to as his centres have not been generous.
Centres: Thomas Castaignède, Gordon D’Arcy, Jonathan Davies, Scott Gibbs, Will Greenwood, Robbie Henshaw, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Aurélien Rougerie, Damien Traille
Outside centre choice: Brian O’Driscoll of Ireland who could lift a whole team with his creative greatness.
Inside centre choice: Having chosen O’Driscoll ahead of Jonathan Davies, we have chosen the man who contributed so much to O’Driscoll’s greatness – Gordon D’Arcy on his inside, just ahead of Will Greenwood. D’Arcy could play and let play with great judgement and skill.
Flyhalves: Owen Farrell, David Humphreys, Neil Jenkins, Christophe Lamaison, Frédéric Michalak, Ronan O’Gara, Alan Penaud, Jonny Sexton, Jonny Wilkinson
In the end it is a choice of Jonnies – Wilkinson and Sexton and eventually we have chosen the better opportunist ahead of the slightly better boot. And we must take care that this is a Six Nations selection, not a World Cup selection and a glorious right-footed dropped goal.
Choice: Jonny Sexton of Ireland
Scrumhalves: Matt Dawson, Gareth Davies, Fabien Galthié, Greig Laidlaw, Morgan Parra, Conor Murray, Peter Stringer, Alessandro Troncon, Ben Youngs
Great teams always have great scrumhalves. Go as far back as you like and you will see that it is true, but we do not have to worry about the great Gareth as we are limited by time and teams.
Choice: Conor Murray – brave, strong, instinctively right and quick but calmly efficient. He may just be the trump card in the Irish hand.
Props: Christian Califano, Martín Castrogiovanni, Dan Cole, Pieter de Villiers, Tadhg Furlong, John Hayes, Cian Healy, Adam Jones, Jason Leonard, Andrea lo Cicero, Euan Murray, Mako Vunipola
Loosehead choice: It’s hard to beat Jason Leonard for durability, always a first-choice player. It may have been towards the end of his massive 119-test career that he played in the Six Nations, but he is the selectors’ choice.
Tighthead choice: This is the place where a steadfast man can make a massive difference and our choice is steadfast all right – Euan Murray of Scotland with Tadhg Furlong of Ireland close behind.
Hookers: Rory Best, Guillhem Guirado, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Jamie George, Raphaël Ibañez, Lee Mears, William Servat, Keith Wood.
Choice: Keith Wood of Ireland – hooker and much more, a leader and such an effective forward.
Locks: Mirco Bortalami, Steve Borthwick, Danny Grewcock, Maro Itoje, Martin Johnson, Alun Wyn Jones, Donnacha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Pascal Papé, Fabien Pelous
Choice: It’s a matter of choosing a partner for Martin Johnson of England, a colossus of a lock. Our choice is exuberant, dedicated Paul O’Connell.
Flanks: Neil Back, Mauro Bergamasco, Serge Betsen, Thierry Dusautoir, Richard Hill, Dan Lydiate, Peter Mahony, Olivier Magne, Sean O’Brien, Paul Wallace
If there were an award for versatility it would be for Mauro Bergamasco who played for Italy at wing and – notoriously – scrumhalf as well as at loose forward. But we are choosing flanks as flanks.
Choice: Richard Hill of England and Thierry Dusautoir of France – tough, effective and creative men. The others are not far behind.
No.8s: Abdelatif Benazzi, Taulupe Faletau, Anthony Foley, Jamie Heaslip, Scott Quinnell, Sergio Parisse, CJ Stander, Billy Vunipola
Choice: Sergio Parisse, who can do it all – run with the ball, pass the ball, kick the ball, tackle, take a tackle, beat a man, create.
Six Nations XV, 2000-2018
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Jonny May
13 Brian O’Driscoll
12 Gordon D’Arcy
11 Shane Williams
10 Jonny Sexton
9 Conor Murray
8 Sergio Parisse
7 Thierry Dusautoir
6 Richard Hill
5 Paul O’Connell
4 Martin Johnson
3 Euan Murray
2 Keith Wood
1 Jason Leonard
Replacements: Bench: 16 Raphaël Ibañez, 17 Martín Castrogiovanni, 18 Christian Califano, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Olivier Magne, 21 Alessandro Troncon, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Aurélien Rougerie
Captain: Martin Johnson
By Paul Dobson