So after five pulsating rounds of rugby, Ireland were crowned 2015 Six nations champions on an incredible day of rugby which saw 221 points scored in just three matches. With all eyes now turning to the World Cup in a few months time, players will be looking to perform well for their clubs in the hope of making sure they are playing in the showpiece event in September. So which players made it into the team of the tournament?
One of the few Scotland players to come out of the tournament with any credit, Hogg’s dangerous running from deep caused problems for opposition defences as he showed the type of form that saw him picked for the Lions tour in 2013. His elusive running and ability to break the line have made him arguably one of the best attacking full-backs in world rugby. A bright spark in a dull team.
WING – Jack Nowell
Having come in for the final three games of the tournament in place of Jonny May, the young Exeter winger repaid Stuart Lancaster’s faith with three tries in three games. Having scored one try in five championship appearances last year as a naïve youngster at international level, Nowell has shown more maturity in his game this season, proving his game has developed significantly from last year’s experience. Always a threat out wide, his performances against Scotland and France in particular showcased his deadly attacking skills.
CENTRE – Jonathan Joseph
The find of the tournament for Stuart Lancaster and my personal choice for Player of the Tournament. Joseph has brought another dimension to what was a stilted English backline with his elusive running and scorching pace seeing him finish as the top try-scorer in the tournament with four tries in five games. A more subtle prescence in midfield compared to previous incumbents Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell, Joseph has surely made the no.13 jersey his for the upcoming World Cup.
CENTRE – Robbie Henshaw
Another young player who has proved his capabilities at this level, Henshaw’s performances have been one of the many highlights for Ireland as they recorded back-to-back championship titles. The fact that the absence of the legendary Brian O’Driscoll has not been felt significantly, owes a lot to the ease of which Henshaw and centre partner Jared Payne have fitted into a strong Irish side. Solid in both defence and attack, Henshaw showed the full array of his skills throughout the tournament, highlighted by his expertly-taken try against England as he collected a chip before grounding the ball close to the touch-line. A future star.
WING – Liam Williams
A fan’s favourite, many Welshmen were unhappy to see the exciting Scarlets full-back on the bench for the opening match of the campaign. However injury to George North and then the loss of form by Alex Cuthbert saw Williams given his chance against Scotland before staying in the side for the remaining three games of the championship. With only one try to his name in the tournament, Williams hardly set the world alight, but his mere presence out wide worried opposition defenders while his ability under the high ball remains unquestioned. Having reverted to his preferred position of full-back for the final game against Italy, Williams showed his attacking intent both scoring and creating tries in a dominant Welsh display.
FLY-HALF – George Ford
A tough call given the faultless performances of both Jonny Sexton and Dan Biggar throughout the championship, but Ford’s marshalling of a more exciting English backline gives him the nod. A player of sublime natural skill, Ford’s ability to play heads-up rugby brought England more try-scoring opportunities resulting in them finishing the tournament as top try-scorers with 18 tries. Ford’s patience at fly-half brought a new dimension to England’s backline, highlighted by his beautifully weighted pass to put Jack Nowell in for a try against France.
SCRUM-HALF – Ben Youngs
Another player to have benefited England’s style of play, Youngs’ partnership with George Ford grew as the tournament wore on, culminating in that exceptional match against France where Youngs starred, scoring two tries and assisting many more. Having lost the no.9 jersey to Danny Care for large parts of last year, Youngs has wrestled the jersey back with some wonderful displays that have shown the form that saw him selected for the Lions second test against Australia in 2013.
LOOSEHEAD PROP – Joe Marler
Any player keeping two British and Irish Lions on the side-lines, is obviously doing an excellent job. Having improved his all-round game drastically over the years, Marler has developed into a world-class test prop with his tireless running and tackling. Ever-present throughout the tournament, his scrummaging has also been crucial in pushing England so close to the title.
HOOKER – Scott Baldwin
Having fought his way into the side by dismounting Richard Hibbard for the France game, the Ospreys hooker went on to keep the jersey for the remainder of the tournament and was vital in the Welsh renaissance which so nearly brought an unlikely title triumph. Having helped steady the Welsh set-piece following some basic errors in the first two matches, Baldwin’s energy around the park – both carrying and tackling – has proved crucial in building a solid platform from which Wales’ devastating backline can be unleashed.
TIGHTHEAD PROP – Dan Cole
Having recovered from a succession of frustrating injuries, the Leicester prop has returned to once again become the cornerstone of a strong English pack. A relentless scrummager, Cole’s contribution throughout the tournament has been invaluable to an England side who produced a number of impressive displays in both attack and defence.
LOCK – Alun Wyn Jones
Arguably the best second-row in world rugby at the moment, Jones continues to carry his teammates forward with his sheer force of will. A tackling machine, the two-time British and Irish Lion has also improved his ball-carrying, having mastered the art of the one-handed offload and produced world-class performances throughout the championship, alongside the stellar efforts of Luke Charteris – himself unlucky not to be included in this team.
LOCK – Paul O’Connell
A modern-day legend, at 35 years of age, Ireland’s captain continues to produce performances that defy his ageing body. Leading from the front as always, O’Connell was instrumental in guiding Ireland to a second consecutive title under his captaincy with his ball-carrying and tackling proving effective as ever in pushing Ireland forward. Notable mention must also go to the performances of Jonny Gray throughout the tournament as well.
FLANKER – Peter O’Mahony
Narrowly beating Dan Lydiate into this team, O’Mahony’s incredible work-rate gets him the nod in this team off the back of another exceptional championship for the Munster captain. A possible future Ireland captain, O’Mahony has once again proved crucial to his team with his unselfish work at the breakdown not getting the plaudits it deserves. An invaluable team player and future Lion.
FLANKER – Sam Warburton
Fully fit and firing, the Welsh and 2013 Lions captain has once again proved to be one of the best players in world rugby. Game by game Warburton’s performance and influence grew throughout the tournament resulting in a phenomenal defensive performance against Ireland, in which he seemed to be first to every ball, winning turnover after turnover in a vital victory for his side. A wonderful solo try against Italy showcased a side to his game rarely seen, as Warburton continues to develop into one of the game’s finest players. Fellow British and Irish Lion Sean O’Brien also deserves mention for some rampaging performances for Ireland.
NUMBER EIGHT – Billy Vunipola
Narrowly beating the likes of Parisse and Faletau into the team, Vunipola has recovered from a slight dip in form to produce some exceptional performances for Stuart Lancaster’s side. A physically daunting prescence at the back of the scrum, Vunipola’s power when carrying the ball provides vital momentum for England’s backs to have the time and space to overcome opposition defences. With the equally-strong prescence of Ben Morgan to return to the England set-up in a few months time, Vunipola will have to continue to perform at this high level to keep the jersey.