I don’t normally feature opinion pieces but a team of the tournament seems to be the done thing about this time of the year so I’m going to be a bit self indulgent for a change and decided to put together a composite six nations side (and I’ll try and justify my selections with a bit of reasoning).
I must stress this isn’t based on stats or much scientific evidence, instead it’s based on my observations and what I feel the players impact within their team and the game was. You may not agree (almost definitely) but it’d be good to hear your thoughts below.
The Dead Ball Area – Six Nations XV
15: Stuart Hogg
All the 15’s stood up to be counted, Kearney was as solid as you expect, Brown a competitor, Halfpenny was almost flawless and Spedding with the second highest meters run grew in stature as the tournament progressed. I also think Mclean was very underrated often stepping into 1st receiver to run the Italian attack.
My personal choice came down to two players, Halfpenny or Hogg, both very different players both were right up their for their teams in the the tournament, but for me Hogg continually showed what a fantastic broken field runner he is and with the impressive running stats of 455m made one can only dream of what he’d do behind some of the other packs.
He also showed what a thoroughly dependable defender he is, single handedly saving Scotland from a brace of tries against England and making 18 tackles. Yes his missed tackles (5) are quite high but I believe that is more to do with the sheer pressure the Scottish team came under compared to others.
14: Yoann Huget
It wasn’t a vintage year of opportunity for wingers but none have particularly let themselves down.
George North (once Cuthbert was dropped) and Tommy Bowe were as excellent as ever for Ireland and Wales, and Watson showed why he must be involved in the England back three over the next five years or so – yes he needs to work on his defence but he causes panic in opposition defences whenever he touches the ball.
However they both miss out to my solitary French choice Yoann Huget.
The French were for the most part a huge shambles, but Huget remains a handful among all that. He had his moments of going off script but he was as much a shining a beacon of what the French can be as he was a liability.
He worked hard in defence, and he chased everything, he’s niggly and competitive and I doubt any other winger in the world would at 80 minutes on the clock having just denied England the championship tapped and gone giving them one last chance – wrong option? yes. But the sheer look of horror on Rory Kockotts face when he realised what was happening is worth his place in this team alone.
13: Mark Bennett
It’s hard to ignore Jonathan Joseph, a stack of tries, and looking very much like the missing piece in the England midfield jigsaw pretty much puts him in pole position.
But it was Bennett who throughout the tournament that continually turned my head. Popping up with a sublime offload in the Dougie Fife try against France, and finishing off a lovely move against England. He defended as stoically and untiringly as you would expect in a Scotland side that struggled for those final few minutes of concentration that make difference between closing out a game and losing.
In attack he is a graceful on the ball as he is powerful in the contact a real contender already for the Lions 2017.
12: Robbie Henshaw
Simply put he’s been incredible – a continual menace in defence and attack, he’s formed about as solid a partnership in the mid-field with with Payne as is possible.
Showing sublime skills in the air, he is the absolute blueprint for a back under Joel Schmidt, a good decision maker who will err on the side of caution rather than give the ball away he’s also been ferocious in the contact area the whole game through and with 6 months to go until the World Cup he’s got plenty of time to improve and that is worrying for everyone else.
11: Liam Williams
Again, quite a few options with Simon Zebo particularly unlucky to miss out here (I bet he’s gutted).
But i’m going for a player that made me sit up every time he was involved.
Williams is a player everyone loves to hate. Frequently in trouble on and off the field, he’s one of the most exciting back three players in the Northern Hemisphere on it. He doesn’t seem to have a devastating side step or incredible strength but he somehow gets himself in all the right places at exactly the right times and defenders just seem to swarm onto him creating space for others.
The difference between Wales back three with him in it and out of it was telling.
10: Dan Biggar
Johnny Sexton is unquestionably the best fly half in Europe, potentially the world, but for my money Biggar was the best fly half in this tournament.
Woefully underrated, but apart from a poor 40 minutes behind a walloped Welsh pack in the England game, he’s run the welsh game plan well. In the last 12 months he’s become the bravest and best kick chaser in the NH and is a guy who nearly always gets his upper body through the contact area.
It was a good year for 10’s with George Ford and Finn Russel settling into their roles, and Camille Lopez showing moments of excellence, Wales came up short this year, but it wasn’t because of their 10.
09: Rhys Webb
The easy option here would be to go for Conor Murray, and he was exceptional, but Webb was an absolute rocket around the park.
Behind, or at least heavily involved in everything good that happened for the Welsh, including 3 tries from 5 games. He’s not as good a game manager as Murray, nor does he have the power and ability to grab a game by the scruff of it’s neck but he’s about as good an attacking scrum half as you’ll see in this day and age.
08: Sergio Parrise
If this man played for any other tier 1 nation he’d be the greatest number 8 the worlds ever seen.
As it is he has only one peer and that is Kieran Read – even then for my money he’s a better player than even the mighty All Black and that’s not a comparison I make lightly. Strong in the carry, a phenomenal defender and ball skills most outside backs are jealous of, he leads from the front and when he’s on the pitch he gives you the belief Italy can win.
07: Sean O’Brien
He’s been missed, by Irish and opposition fans a like.
Strong on the carry, strong over the ball, strong in the tackle he missed the first game against Italy and the chances are if he’d been on the pitch i doubt Ireland would have been chasing points come the final day. It’s a close call between O’Brien and Warburton (who admittedly outplayed him in their head to head), but if you watch the Ireland vs England game again you will not see a more destructive number 7 performance this past year.
06: Peter O’Mahony
In Red or in Green he gives it his all for every second he’s on the pitch, you won’t see much of him but he’s there doing the hard work in defence and making the small yards that matter. If Lydiate is Gatlands go to man, then O’Mahony is Schmidts, he’s an outstanding player and quite the sharp dresser (apparently).
05: Alun Wyn-Jones
Kruis and Gray have been excellent for England and Scotland respectively, but Wyn-Jones is the backbone of this welsh pack, physical, aggressive even in defeat he puts in big shifts. He may not be as eye catching as some of the other out here but his carrying around the corner epitomises the Welsh game plan.
04: Paul O’Connell
This time last year everyone was discussing how Ireland were going to cope without a captain of Brian O’Driscolls stature.
In truth it was never an issue because it’s now clear to everyone that Paul O’Connell was as much a leader in that squad as O’Driscoll.
O’Connell does the basics, well. In fact he just does them better than anyone else out there and he is a master at reading the oppositions calls – England 5 metre lineout anyone? Yes, I know he plays 5, and I know the difference between the locks, but there is no way i can leave him and Wyn-Jones out. Tough call on Charteris though.
03: Dan Cole
Purely because he came back in at short notice for the excellent David Wilson and did a fantastic job, he’s not the most destructive of scrummagers, but he does his job and often a few other peoples around the park. A menace in the ruck, excellent on ball and very good defensive pillar, expect to see him and Wilson battling it out for the start come World Cup time.
02: Rory Best
The most complete and consistent number 2 in the competition for my mind. He has bounced back brilliantly from the disappointment of the British and Irish Lions in 2013 to continually get one up on his more recognised opposite numbers. Scott Baldwin was a very close second, but while there are guys who are better at specific skills within the Hooker’s role, I can think of none are quite as complete a package as Best, or as good at getting over the ball as Best.
01: Joe Marler
Jack McGrath is the obvious choice, and he was immense, but I guess this is just about as unscientific a choice as you can make. Every team in the six nations has a reasonably solid front row, and not many got the upper hand on each other. Having said that in my mind Marler did everything that was asked of him and when criticism came up he just upped his work rate without setting the world on fire. Simple as that.
Author: The Dead Ball Area
Graeme Forbes has run The Dead Ball Area since 2014.
You can find his material on Green and Gold Rugby, Rugbydump Coaching and Youtube. You can also find him randomly arguing with people on Twitter.