Six Nations: Team of the Tournament

So another Six Nations has come to an end. There were highs, there were lows, there was even a referee running into a post. England claimed a first Grand Slam since 2003, Scotland found some form in the second half of the championship that has their fans in cautiously optimistic mood and Wales blew hot and cold by mixing attacking threat with defensive lapses. Elsewhere, Ireland looked like a team in transition, France’s new era failed to impress and Italy couldn’t quite maintain their effort levels for the full 80 minutes. Air3 Radio covered every single minute of the 2016 Six Nations, but who has made our team of the tournament?

15 – Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

The only choice for this position. A razor-sharp attacking threat, the Glasgow Warriors full-back was a constant menace for defences, with his acceleration, footwork and eye for a gap never more evident than in his sparkling try against Ireland on Super Saturday. He also exhibited a more mature side of his game in this championship by stepping up to take a more active role in Scotland’s decision making in the latter half of the championship. By far and away the frontrunner for the 15 jersey on next year’s Lions tour.

14 – Anthony Watson (England)

England’s best winger since Jason Robinson? It’s a big statement to make, but it’s one certain sections of the media are happy to make. Touching down in three successive matches in the championship, Watson’s dancing feet and speed allowed England to fashion chances from nothing and his finishing ability – he’s averaging a try every two caps for his country – seems to have been unaffected by club side Bath’s errant form in the Aviva Premiership. Well worth his place in the side.

13 – Duncan Taylor (Scotland)

Unheralded at the start of the tournament, the Saracens centre ended the campaign as one of the first names on Vern Cotter’s team sheet. Taylor took his chance with both hands when Matt Scott was ruled out of the championship, and his try against France showed both speed of thought and foot. Given the chance, he could develop into a very important player for his country.

12 – Jamie Roberts (Wales)

You know what you’re going to get with Jamie Roberts – hard running and 100% effort. That doesn’t make it any less impressive. The Harlequins centre was consistently one of Wales’ best players in a mixed Six Nations campaign, with his angles of running causing problems for every defence. In addition, his defensive stability was evident throughout the campaign, showing just why he remains one Warren Gatland’s most important lieutenants.

11 – George North (Wales)

Back to his best after a difficult season at club level, North is one of the world’s best wingers. Solid under the high ball, able to find an offload out of nothing and, of course, a tremendous finisher, he finished the Six Nations by equalling Shane Williams’ Welsh record of scoring in four successive Six Nations matches. A successful campaign for Northampton’s Welsh wonder.

10 – Dan Biggar (Wales)

It wasn’t a vintage championship in terms of fly-half performances. However, Biggar gets the nod due to his consistency. The Ospreys man was nerveless from the kicking tee and peerless in the kick-chase, all the while putting himself about in defence. A vocal presence on the field, he showed just why he has become his country’s number one number 10.

9 – Conor Murray (Ireland)

In a disappointing championship for Ireland, Murray stood out. Regularly providing reliable service to Jonny Sexton and his forward pack, his kicking game also allowed Ireland to get out of jail on a number of occasions. The Munsterman also took on a leadership role in a side still in a rebuilding phase, taking some of the pressure off captain Rory Best.

1 – Alasdair Dickinson (Scotland)

A resurgent Scotland forward pack was built on a solid front row showing at scrum time. However, Dickinson also carried well and was one of the unsung heroes of the Scottish side. One third of an all-Edinburgh front row, the Scottish scrum was one of the strongest in the tournament for which Dickinson can rightly claim his share of the plaudits.

2 – Guilhem Guirado (France)

The newly-appointed French captain was head and shoulders above any of his tea-mates when thinking about France’s stand-out player. The Toulon hooker was one of his side’s most prominent ball-carriers and was also very visible in the loose exchanges – witness his support line for his try against Scotland in round four. A solid foundation for Guy Noves to build a team around.

3 – WP Nel (Scotland)

Joining his club colleague Dickinson in the team, Nel’s first Six Nations was an unqualified success. Only Dan Cole played more minutes in the championship than the Edinburgh man, but Nel gets the nod based on both his scrummaging performance and his carrying ability. Having been under pressure from younger rivals such as Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland at the outset of the campaign, Nel is now Scotland’s undisputed first choice tighthead.

4 – Devin Toner (Ireland)

Tasked with following in the sizeable footsteps of the legendary Paul O’Connell, Toner put in his best string of performances in an Ireland shirt to date. The giant Leinster lock called the Irish lineout impeccably whilst offering an effective carrying option for Conor Murray. Partnered with Donncha Ryan or the returning Iain Henderson, Toner is one of the mainstays of the Irish pack.

5 – George Kruis (England)

If there was an award for under-rated player of the championship, Kruis would win it hands down. He hasn’t had the plaudits of Saracens team-mate Maro Itoje, but Kruis has quietly and effectively gone about his business in the English second-row. When he’s not terrorising opposition lineouts, he’s tackling with reckless abandon. Kruis should be on the international scene for many years to come.

6 – CJ Stander (Ireland)

One of the breakthrough players of the tournament. The few people who had doubted his ability to transfer his Munster form onto the international scene were quickly hushed with his performance against Wales. 21 carries and a debut try offered Ireland a new, dynamic option in the back row, with his form continuing throughout the Irish campaign. He’ll have a battle on his hands to retain his emerald jersey, but it’s one he’ll relish.

7 – John Hardie (Scotland)

A few players could have taken this position, but Hardie gets the vote based on his all-round performances. A nuisance at the breakdown and a terrific link between forwards and back, the former Highlanders man has made the number seven shirt his own. Combining well with John Barclay, Scotland are well placed when it comes to back row options.

8 – Billy Vunipola (England)

Arguably the most destructive ball-carrier in the championship, Vunipola bounced back after a disappointing World Cup campaign to rubber-stamp his claim to the England number eight shirt. However, he’s also improved his decision making, more often than not looking for an offload or a pass instead of just sheer brute force. A key campaign in Vunipola’s development and a potential stepping stone to a certain red jersey in 2017?

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