6N 2018: Team of the tournament

Full-back:

Matteo Minozzi (Italy)

A breath of fresh air, and one of a few new young stars that offer hope for the future in Italian rugby. A try-scorer in four successive matches, Minozzi’s tally of four left him second only to Jacob Stockdale (7) in the try-scoring charts. His dazzling footwork left many opposing defenders embarrassed, none more so than when leaving Lions star Liam Williams clutching thin air with an evasive step and finish in the corner for his try against Wales. A joy to watch and at just 21 years of age a player who could be around for a long while.

Wing:

Sean Maitland (Scotland)

Ireland’s Keith Earls and England’s Jonny May both had impressive tournaments but Maitland was an influential performer in Scotland’s daring attacking game. A try-scorer in victories over France, England and Italy the former Lions winger has a good understanding of the game and was in the right place at the right time to finish off some of Scotland’s exciting attacks. Highly experienced and a reassuring presence at this level.

Outside Centre:

Huw Jones (Scotland)

Fast becoming one of Scotland’s most important players South African-born Jones has taken to test rugby like a duck to water. Ten tries in fifteen tests is some record for a centre, the Glasgow midfielder followed up a smart score against the French with a man-of-the-match performance in the Calcutta Cup against England where his brace of tries – the second a testament to his strength just as much as his speed – helped the Scots to an overdue victory.

Inside Centre:

Bundee Aki (Ireland)

A player who only made his test debut a couple of months ago, Connacht’s Aki has made the Irish no.12 jersey his own with a number of impactful displays in this championship. A direct running threat from midfield, the New Zealand-born centre has contributed heavily to Ireland’s commanding play through their title-winning campaign, scoring his first test try in victory over the Welsh. Honourable mention must go to Wales’ Hadleigh Parkes who also impressed, but Aki was in a league of his own.

Wing:

Jacob Stockdale (Ireland)

A try-scoring sensation finishing with a Six Nations record of seven tries, Stockdale more than made his mark on this tournament. A big physical young winger the Ulsterman was the main beneficiary of Ireland’s lengthy spells in possession with braces against Italy, Wales and Scotland at the Aviva. Proved his mettle at Twickenham where his determination was rewarded with an unlikely try that clinched the Grand Slam. A star is born.

Fly-half:

Jonny Sexton (Ireland)

The genius and main orchestrator behind Ireland’s Grand Slam, Sexton laid the foundations with that majestic drop-goal against France in Paris. When all others around him were losing their heads, the Irish no.10 kept his showing nerves of steel and a whole lot of ability to nail a long-range effort to steal the win. Equally impressive in other games with his exquisite fizzing pass for Stockdale’s score against Wales another highlight. A leader who can mix his game up to suit the occasion, in this kind of form he is right up alongside Barrett as the best in the world. Player of the tournament.

Scrum-half:

Connor Murray (Ireland)

If Sexton was the main orchestrator this man run him mightily close. An expert controller of matches, Murray has gone from strength to strength since the Lions tour and is light-years ahead of his fellow scrum-halves in Europe. Ran the show throughout with Sexton, contributing a try and even a couple of penalties, the speed of thought and action from Murray was key to Ireland putting away all other rivals. A player who has grown into a real leader within Schmidt’s side.

Loosehead Prop:

Rob Evans (Wales)

Cian Healy rewound the clock to good effect with Ireland, but Welshman Evans continues to thrive with his all-court style of play. A prop who handles like a back, the Scarlets star has become one of the first names on Warren Gtaland’s team-sheet and with his scrimmaging improving with every game developing into quite the force within test rugby.

Hooker:

Guilhem Guirado (France)

The main man for France once again, Guirado’s demonic-like work-rate was instrumental for his side. A captain who leads by example, having completed a record 31 tackles against Ireland in round one, deserved better than to be on the losing side. A forward who never takes a backwards step when carrying the ball and goes looking for work on the floor as well, Guirado continues to maintain his excellent standards and will have been relieved after years of carrying this team on his own to see his team-mates put in an improved effort this season.

Tight-head Prop:

Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

A Lions tourist and Grand Slam winner, all at the age of 23 is there anything Tadhg Furlong can’t do?! A modern-day tight-head with great handling skills and fitness to go with strong work at the scrum, Furlong has been central to everything Ireland have achieved this campaign. Produced one of the moments of the championship with his pass out the back for Stander’s try against England and pushing Owen Franks as the premier tight-head in world rugby. A class act, who will anchor that Irish scrum for the next decade.

Lock forward:

James Ryan (Ireland)

Wales’ Cory Hill impressed throughout with his footballing skills but for sheer heart, young Leinster second-row Ryan has to be included. A young man who seemed to come of age in the red-hot atmosphere of the Stade de France in round one, producing a valiant display that proved crucial in helping his side edge out the French. Has maintained a high standard throughout, and has got through a shed-load of work whether it be tackling, carrying or at line-out time. A tough old-fashioned type lock with a modern-day skillset, his seismic hit on Itoje at Twickenham showcased what this guy is all about.

Lock forward:

Alun Wyn-Jones (Wales)

Continues to set the standard for second-rows in the northern hemisphere at 32, Jones has been a colossus once again for Wales in this championship. From running about offloading the ball like Sonny Bill Williams to tackling and carrying with his customary physicality the Wales captain has been at his uncompromising best and remains the most competitive of test-match animals. Given a well-earned rest against the Italians but truth be told probably the one player who doesn’t need it. Over 100 test caps and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon having settled into the captaincy role.

Blind-side flanker:

Aaron Shingler (Scarlets)

Scotland’s John Barclay and France’s Yacouba Camara have impressed but Welshman Shingler has been one of the best players in this year’s competition. Injuries to others may have opened the door for an international recall but the Scarlets man has taken his opportunity translating his impressive regional form into the test arena. Produced an all-action display against Scotland, caused big problems for the English defence with his running game and contributed to a massive defensive effort when coming on against the French. If Gatland is serious about continuing with this expansive style of play then it is up to others to wrestle the no.6 jersey off Shingler.

Open-side flanker:

Hamish Watson (Scotland)

Scottish flanker Watson once again displayed his class at this level with some highly-efficient performances. A willing and impactful ball-carrier it is in defence where Watson is at his most productive, particularly at the breakdown where he is one of the best in the game at disrupting opposition ball. Had a field-day against a poor English back-row in the Calcutta Cup and a key player for Gregor Townsend moving forward towards the World Cup.

Number Eight:

CJ Stander (Ireland)

One of Ireland’s go-to men in attack and defence the Lions no.8 has been at his rampaging best during this championship. Top ball-carrier in tournament (96) and showed his strength and power to slide over for the decisive score against the English.

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