Six Nations: Team of the Tournament
OPINION: While the embers of the Six Nations are being pored over, picking the tournament’s standout players is a rare joy and in this year’s edition, the accent is weighs heavily on green and blue, as two of the world’s leading teams lit up the Six Nations with enterprise, intelligence and courage.
Have a look at the RugbyPass+ team of the tournament and feel free to comment on our selections.
15 Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
A straight shootout between Keenan and Thomas Ramos, won by the outstanding Irishman. Keenan has shone from start to finish, scoring in the opener in Cardiff and lacing his sky-high performance levels with brilliant flourishes of class. His lassoing of the giant Duhan van der Merwe was a try-saver, another Keenan wrangling of a much larger opponent. He has been superb under the high ball, put his boot to good use, and been a constant threat in attack.
Freddie Steward was one of few Englishmen to emerge from the championship with his reputation enhanced.
14 Mack Hansen (Ireland)
Has proven himself a weapon at the breakdown and under the high ball as well as displaying the customary finishing prowess. His performance against Scotland in the penultimate leg of the Slam was defining, a day when he outboxed his larger and much-vaunted opposite in Van der Merwe. Near the top of the charts for line-breaks, offloads and running metres. Some trademark footwork and agility on show in the title-clinching win over England too.
13 Huw Jones (Scotland)
What a return to the international arena. Jones has been a peripheral figure for Scotland these past few years, sidelined largely through the ferocity of competition in Gregor Townsend’s midfield. Chris Harris, the iron defender, has owned the number 13 jersey. Jones’ form this season, though, makes you wonder why on earth Scotland ever did without him. His haul of four tries is the second-best in the tournament – and three of them came against the top two sides. He cuts devastating running angles, and both Finn Russell and Sione Tuipulotu are wonderfully adept at hitting him.
12 Gael Fickou (France)
Too influential to leave out, even he plays primarily in the outside-centre position. Shaun Edwards’ defensive general, a beast over the ball and a dangerous asset in attack. Scored tries against Scotland and Wales. Third for tackles made with a haul of 67, missing only three attempts.
Sione Tuipulotu is a cracking combination over size and skill. A Swiss army knife of a centre, Ignacio Brex is the glue that binds Italy’s flamboyant threats together.
11 Damian Penaud (France)
We’re cheating a little here by shunting Penaud from right to left wing, but his excellence demands selection just ahead of Ireland’s brilliant James Lowe. Many were amping up Penaud as the best winger in rugby after the autumn, and he has done nothing to taint that perception since. He averages five defenders beaten per match this tournament, tops the try-scoring charts with five and created panic pretty much any time the ball found his hands.
Duhan van der Merwe scored three of the competition’s best tries but in Scotland’s toughest games, against Ireland and France, flew largely under the radar.
10 Finn Russell (Scotland)
Sacrilegious as it may be to omit the incredible Johnny Sexton from this team, Russell pips him for his individual performances. The Scot produced more of the magnificent and less of the maddening. Russell plays not so much on the edge as clinging on to the cliff face with a solitary pinkie, but this championship was his finest. After four rounds, he was in the top three ball-carriers across the entire tournament – remarkable for a flyhalf – and is joint-top for try assists despite missing the final round through injury. Scotland looked far poorer without him. His only serious error was an interception pass allowing Thomas Ramos in for seven points, but Russell laid on a Scottish try and scored another himself later in the game. You must accept those wince-inducing, watch-through-your-fingers moments with Russell, but he is emphatically worth it.
9 Antoine Dupont (France)
In France, they call Dupont an ‘extraterrestrial’. He has taken his unstinting quality to superhuman levels. He never seems to drop his standards even a modicum. We saw soaring 50-22 punts, tigerish carries, searing breaks and a range of beautiful passes, from the swooping parabolas to the canny offloads. Freakish.
Elsewhere, Ben White was terrific for Scotland, so much so that English chiefs must be wondering how they let him escape north.
1 Andrew Porter (Ireland)
A very competitive field, given the tireless ball-carrying of Scotland’s Pierre Schoeman, and big displays from Ellis Genge, Danilo Fischetti and Cyrille Baille. Porter gets in, though, on account of his consistency across the tournament. A hugely destructive scrummager and mighty dynamic around the pitch.
2 Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
The best hooker in the world? On current form, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Massive, rapid, great hands and dependable at the lineout. Scored a double and was named man of the match as the Slam was sealed. Does everything you’d ask of a modern-day hooker and a heck of a lot more besides.
3 Finlay Bealham (Ireland)
A difficult position to fill given many of the top candidates – Tadhg Furlong, Uini Atonio, Zander Fagerson – have missed chunks of the championship. Bealham did, too, being sidelined for the final two matches of Ireland’s glory run. What he did with his time on the pitch, though, was hugely compelling, stepping in for the cherished and much-vaunted Furlong and giving Andy Farrell a super alternative.
4 Thibaud Flament (France)
France was shorn of lineout genius and fabulously athletic second-row, Cameron Woki, for their title defence. Fabien Galthie needn’t have worried, for in Flament, he has a virtually unique piece of boiler-house weaponry. Most rugby folk know, by now, about Flament’s back story as a 6ft 8ins fly-half in the Loughborough University fifth team; everybody who saw him conquer Twickenham knows what a talent he is. Blistering pace and explosiveness, a great set-piece operator and fearsome tackler. The second-top defender 81 out of 84 shots.
Ollie Chessum was eye-catching for England, and Richie Gray made a stirring return to Six Nations duty aged 33.
5 James Ryan (Ireland)
A beacon of class. Ryan has a truly frightening skillset and work rate and we saw both again in all their visceral glory. Joint-top for turnovers won, high on the charts for carries, tackles and dominant tackles and crucially, the most prolific stealer of opposition lineouts.
Paul Willemse had a big tournament, as did Italy’s all-court lock, Federico Ruzza.
6 Sebastian Negri (Italy)
Seldom can a rugby player have done so much thankless bludgeoning. Negri spends more time confronting brick walls than the average builder. His job is to get Italy motoring and he does it with a hulking set of shoulders and a phenomenal engine. His close-quarter pugilism frequently lays the platform to let Italy’s free-wheeling backs shine.
Peter O’Mahony would run over his grandmother to get a win such is his competitive zeal and Francois Cros came in for Anthony Jelonch and was tremendous.
7 Josh van der Flier
We can scarcely leave out the man who produced a more than passable effort of masquerading as an international hooker. When Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher were crocked in Edinburgh, up stepped the world player of the year. He missed his first target, then nailed five in a row in the crucial throes of the Test match. That only served to underscore how Van der Flier can do things few other forwards can manage. The flanker’s armoury is vast. He is a complete menace over ball, blisteringly quick to the breakdown and hugely effective when he gets there.
Charles Ollivon shone again.
8 Caelan Doris (Ireland)
A colossus. One of the most compelling players of the tournament and the form No 8 in world rugby. Bested the great Gregory Alldritt in what proved the title showdown and remained an omnipotent presence. The prototype for the modern number eight: brutality, intelligence and industry. Doris wins Ireland metres with the ball and turnovers without it. His tally of five steals was matched only by team-mate Ryan and Jamie Ritchie. He has dexterity and endurance in spades. A vital cog in Andy Farrell’s winning machine.
Alldritt found his old self as the championship wore on, particularly at Twickenham, while Italy’s Lorenzo Cannone had a brilliant debut campaign.
By Jamie Lyall, RugbyPass+