6N 2016: Team of the tournament

Full-back – Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

One of the players of the tournament, Hogg’s devastating running from deep caused opposition defences many problems throughout the tournament. The Scotland No.15 finished the campaign with two tries including a memorable solo effort against Ireland, but it was his role in setting up tries which most caught the eye with Hogg finishing the championship with the joint-most try assists with three to his name – with two of the three being audacious passes to set up tries against Italy and France respectively. Arguably one of the best attacking full-backs in world rugby at the moment and a sure bet to go on the Lions tour to New Zealand next year.

Wing – George North (Wales)

Having struggled for form last year, the big Welshman has answered his critics this season, finishing as the top try-scorer in this year’s tournament with four tries. His tries against Scotland and Italy were the pick of the bunch as the Northampton winger showed his pace and agility to get away from defenders. Not only has North excelled in attack this campaign, his tracking back has also been notable with his defensive work having also improved. Back to the form that saw him star for the British and Irish Lions in 2013, the 23-year-old is only going to get better, a frightening prospect for opposition defences.

Outside Centre – Michele Campagnaro (Italy)

A star performer in an abysmal Italian side, Campagnaro once again did his reputation no harm with a number of consistent performances in the tournament. Having burst on to the scene in 2014 with a brace of tries against Wales on his Six Nations debut, his attacking qualities are well-known to Six Nations supporters but it is his defensive game that has shone through this year with his aggressive tackling technique pushing opposition attackers back at a rate of knots. A player who has benefitted from playing competitive rugby at club level with Exeter in the Aviva Premiership, the Italian narrowly beats out Scot Duncan Taylor who also had a memorable campaign.

Inside Centre – Jamie Roberts (Wales)

A phenomenal tournament from Wales’ go-to man in both attack and defence, Roberts has once again highlighted his importance to Warren Gatland’s team with a number of barnstorming displays in midfield. From his defensive master-class in Dublin, to his try-scoring exploits against Scotland and Italy, the Welsh centre has been key to his side finishing second this year. With some beginning to write him off at the age of 29, Roberts has once again reminded everyone of his enduring class.

Wing – Anthony Watson (England)

One of England’s most consistent performers in their Grand Slam pursuit, the Bath winger has cemented his place in this England team with his energy and pace. Having begun the campaign in slow fashion, Watson emerged to end the tournament with three tries in the final three games, with his score against France in Paris clinching England’s first Grand Slam in 13 years. At just 22 years of age, Watson has a healthy strike-rate of 11 tries in 20 caps while his accuracy under the high ball has also been a noticeable feature of his game during the tournament.

Fly-half – Owen Farrell (England)

A slight positional change for the Saracens man who played the whole of England’s campaign in the No.12 jersey. Honourable mention must also go to the excellent Dan Biggar and the exciting prospect Finn Russell, but Farrell excelled for England as a second-receiver with his kicking and passing game proving effective tools for Eddie Jones’ men. A more mature presence than the player who went on the Lions tour in 2013, Farrell has developed his game over the years to prove equally effective at 10 or 12. His nerveless kicking from the tee was an invaluable asset for his team and with his team-mate Ford struggling for form during the tournament, a move back to his preferred position of fly-half may not be out of the question.

Scrum-half – Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)

A cool, calm customer at No.9, the Scotland skipper has been nothing short of superb this year. Narrowly beating out Ireland’s Connor Murray, Laidlaw has used all his experience to effectively marshal a youthful Scottish backline that has thrilled fans and pundits alike with their expansive attacking skills. The Scottish captain has led his team with great distinction over the last few years, and is still one of the first names on Cotter’s team-sheet given his razor-sharp brain, and accuracy from the kicking tee.

Loosehead Prop – Rob Evans (Wales)

For years Wales have been looking for the natural successor to the legendary Gethin Jenkins, and have finally found it in the young Scarlet. Having earned his first cap against Ireland last year, coach Warren Gatland has been smart in slowly integrating Evans into this Welsh team. Having bided his time last season, the 23-year-old was a surprise inclusion for the first game away to Ireland as he usurped Jenkins for the No.1 jersey. In what is usually a tough assignment for even the most experienced of loosehead props, Evans had a field-day at the Aviva alongside club team-mate Samson Lee as the two young props dominated the Irish scrum giving Wales plenty of front-foot ball. Away from the scrum his work around the park was also exemplary with the France game in particular seeing him showcase his impressive offloading skills. The new Welsh No.1 endured a tough afternoon at Twickenham where Wales struggled at times in the scrum, but that experience will prove invaluable for the youngster as he continues to develop as an international.

Hooker – Guilhem Guirado (France)

Arguably the only French player to have come out of this tournament with some credit, the new skipper produced a number of excellent performances that put his team-mates to shame. Having taken over from Thierry Dusautoir, Guirado has led his team well throughout the tournament and gets the nod over England captain Dylan Hartley who also impressed this year. A stable presence in the scrum and throwing in at line-outs (if not for a slight wobble against England) the French captain has also weighed in in attack with two tries scored in the tournament.

Tighthead Prop – WP Nel (Scotland)

Carrying on from where he left off at the World Cup, South African- born Nel has once again been a solid anchor at scrum-time for Vern Cotter’s side. Whilst everyone is now aware of his strength as a tight-head, the Edinburgh prop has also stood out for his tackling and ball-carrying as he begins to emerge as a possible front-runner for the Lions No.3 berth.

Lock – George Kruis (England)

In my opinion the undisputed Player of the tournament, Kruis has seemingly come from nowhere to overtake the likes of Joe Launchbury and Courteney Lawes as England’s first-choice lock forward. Having started the ball rolling with England’s opening try of the tournament against Scotland, the Saracens second-row has taken charge at line-out time where he has not only been secure on England’s throws but also stealing opposition ball with 6 line-out steals to his name. Along with his faultless work at set-piece time, Kruis has also worked tirelessly around the field both as a ball-carrier and tackler, and has cemented his place in Eddie Jones’ team.

Lock – Maro Itoje (England)

The find of the tournament. At just 21 years of age, Itoje’s performances this campaign have been truly remarkable with the young Saracen producing displays that defy his age. After making his debut off the bench in Rome in round two, coach Eddie Jones had obviously seen enough in his new star as he moved into the starting line-up for the remainder of the campaign. A stunning man-of-the-match display against Wales followed, where he seemed to be everywhere on the pitch; whether it be stealing turnovers or line-out ball, tackling Welsh attackers or making the break that set up Anthony Watson’s try. Tipped as a future England captain, the young forward has an incredible maturity to his game for someone so young and at well over 6 foot has a real presence out on the field. A raw athlete with great energy and work-rate, Itoje is also capable of playing blindside flanker, having worn the No.6 jersey for his club in the past. A tough game against France where he conceded a few penalties shows he still has a long way to go, but it is highly likely that we will see him in an England jersey for a long time to come.

Flanker – CJ Stander (Ireland)

Another stand-out performer in this year’s championship, Munster-man Stander has burst on to the international scene with his powerful ball-carrying skills. Having become eligible to play for Ireland on residency grounds, the South African-born back-row made his international debut against Wales at the start of the tournament and has been an ever-present in the side throughout the campaign. A flanker with a strong work-ethic, it has been in attack where Stander has been most effective as he finished this year’s tournament as the player with the most carries ball in hand (79) whilst also contributing with tries in the final two matches against Italy and Scotland. With Munster team-mate Peter O’Mahony to return from injury, Stander may face a battle to keep hold of his international jersey but has done everything he can to hold onto it.

Flanker – John Hardie (Scotland)

Another Scotland player to carry his World Cup form over into the Six Nations, Edinburgh man Hardie has been outstanding in defence for the Scots this year. The New Zealand-born No.7 finished the tournament as the top tackler with 67 and has also proved to be an effective ball-carrier and link man, as he showed with his try against Italy in round three.

Number Eight – Billy Vunipola (England)

Not far behind Kruis as Player of the Tournament, Vunipola has been sensational for England this year with his bull-dozing runs with ball in hand giving opposing defenders nightmares. Back to his best following an indifferent season last year, the big man looks a lot leaner and has consequently given England an extra dimension in attack. Ran close by cousin Taulupe Faletau who had another outstanding campaign with Wales, Vunipola gets the edge this time and is likely to be jostling with the Wales No.8 for the Lions jersey next year.

 

 

 

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