2019 Six Nations Team of the Tournament

first_imgThe championship’s top two sides, Wales and England, dominate selection in our Six Nations Team of the Tournament. Which players would make your own composite XV? Roaring success: Alun Wyn Jones is a shoo-in to lead our Six Nations XV after a stellar tournament (Inpho) So Rob Evans gets the loosehead slot, a selection made more on the general effectiveness of the tight five, although he was also a conspicuous carrier and hit the rucks like a good ‘un.Ball off the floor: Rob Evans, offloading against England, is part of an imposing Welsh tight five (Getty)2 Jamie GeorgeEven with his co-captain status, it’s difficult to see the currently sidelined Dylan Hartley starting the big games again for England, such has been George’s form.He offers so much in the loose in terms of carrying and ball skills – such as his left-hand 15m cut-out pass against Italy – that at times it’s like having another back on the field.His tackle count (78) was third-highest in the championship and his throwing accuracy – on which hookers are judged first and foremost – contributed to a rock-solid English lineout. Only two of George’s 39 throws went astray for a chart-topping 95% success rate.There are some very fine hookers in Europe at the moment and George is the best of them.Dart thrower: Jamie George topped the lineout stats for hooker and offers plenty around the park (Getty)3 Tomas FrancisThe Exeter Chief has only spent five years in a full-time environment, so his rise to Grand Slam-winning tighthead is one of Wales’ biggest success stories. He doesn’t have the offloading panache of Kyle Sinckler, nor the wheels of Tadhg Furlong, but he puts his head down and does the job.No one got the better of the Welsh scrum and in the key moments in the Grand Slam match against Ireland, Francis and his chums got the verdict time and again.Sinckler will probably become a better player than Francis but right now his sporadic flashes of hot-headedness – as evidenced against Wales and France ­– is a crease that needs ironing out. Indiscipline can shift momentum and lose you matches.Prop charge: Tomas Francis finds his support during Wales’ 18-11 win at Murrayfield (Getty Images)4 George KruisWe almost plumped for James Ryan or Felix Lambey, a shining light in a poor France team, but Kruis’s form demands selection. The England lock ran one of the best two lineouts in the competition, winning 19 throws himself, and showed up well in the loose and in the ruck stats that help show a player’s selfless devotion to the bread-and-butter tasks.Italy were breathtakingly inept in clearing their lines at Twickenham, but even so someone has to step up and take advantage and it was Kruis who charged down two kicks to create tries for himself and Brad Shields.Kruis control: George Kruis, winning lineout ball last weekend, is getting back to his pre-2017 Lions form (Getty)5 Alun Wyn JonesPundits have started to put it out there: is Alun Wyn Jones the greatest Welsh player there’s ever been? Seeing as Gareth Edwards is often cited as the greatest player of any nationality, Wyn Jones is gaining the sort of hype that will doubtless make him squirm.The Wales captain seems to boss every game. He executes his roles with such detachment that he’s often communicating with the referee whilst being tackled or driving a maul! His work-rate for a second-row is staggering – 71 tackles, 166 rucks in this Six Nations – and the nous accruing from 134 Test appearances means he can put opponents off their game without detracting from his own mighty performance in the slightest.The only snag Wales have is he’s almost too important. How would they cope without him if injury was to rule him out at this year’s World Cup?Colossus: Alun Wyn Jones is now the joint fifth most-capped player in history, with 134 Tests (Getty)6 Peter O’MahonyThe Munsterman was exceptional in a strangely off-colour Irish team. As a lineout jumper, he is literally hitting the heights, with his 32 wins plus two steals putting him streets ahead of the rest in this tournament.He was first to the ruck on 79 occasions and exploited his immaculate jack-knife jackal technique to win six turnovers – only Mathieu Bastareaud managed more. He’s also a brilliant tackler, stopping the offload and sometimes stripping the ball.Josh Navidi was more eye-catching in the Grand Slam clincher, but O’Mahony has that cool-headed gravitas that every team desires. The No 6 shirt has to be his.Flat-out commitment: Peter O’Mahony charges down a clearance by Antoine Dupont in Dublin (Inpho)7 Tom CurryWe’re a huge fan of Hamish Watson but injury restricted him to 102 minutes. Thus we turn to the championship’s most prolific tackler for the scavenger role, Tom Curry making 86 tackles to go with his tries against Wales and Scotland.The Sale man concedes a few too many penalties – something that will improve with time – but he is busier than a palm tree in a hurricane. No other player was first man at the ruck more than 100 times, as Curry was, and his form is such that pundits are now speculating whether England can accommodate both him and Sam Underhill in a ‘dream ticket’, as Australia have done with Pocock and Hooper.That wouldn’t be our route but it’s a valid conversation.Tackle king: Tom Curry stops Bundee Aki in his tracks in England’s magnificent win in Dublin (Inpho)No 8 Josh NavidiIt seems sacrilegious to omit Billy Vunipola, but the England No 8 is still searching for that blockbusting form he had before his various arm fractures. Nor, given Wales’ remarkable ability to slow down and generally mess up opposition breakdown ball, could we countenance a back row without one of the champions. 2019 Six Nations Team of the Tournament15 Liam WilliamsThe former scaffolder was safe as houses at the back, catching 23 of the 24 high balls that went his way for a 96% success rate.He’s also a dangerous runner, albeit lacking that searing pace that Elliot Daly brings to England in the position, and he’s always involved – he carried 49 times in the championship.Occasionally, he hangs on to the ball when he should give a pass but that is a mere quibble. His performances may have ended the debate on whether he or Leigh Halfpenny should take possession of the Welsh 15 shirt.A Liam lasso: Wales full-back Liam Williams tackles Jason Stockdale in the Grand Slam clincher (Getty)14 Jack NowellWe’re going against the grain here because Josh Adams has made pretty much everyone’s Team of the Tournament. Adams’s finishing has been excellent, but if you want to know why big Joe Cokanasiga doesn’t walk into the England team, consider this: Jack Nowell crossed the gain-line 17 times out of 23 carries. That’s a 74% success rate – the best in the championship – and he beat 17 defenders in doing so.The Exeter wing is no giant but, like Scotland’s Darcy Graham, he’s immensely powerful and he can certainly finish, as he showed with his lightning try against Scotland.Nowell is better under the high ball than Adams – notwithstanding the latter’s great leap against England – and works harder off the wing and around the fringes. That gives him the nod over both the Welshman and Ireland’s Keith Earls.Zing on the wing: Exeter’s Jack Nowell packs a powerful punch on the right for England (Getty Images)13 Jonathan DaviesHenry Slade was the best attacking 13 of the championship, making 12 clean breaks and scoring three tries and even, in one of these unexpected quirks, muscling in on the list of top performers for ‘ruck effectiveness’ that is dominated by Irish forwards.He contributed to the best offensive rugby of the tournament, but this was a title won on defence and Jonathan Davies – a first-time Wales captain in Rome – was and is the Gov’nor.Wales conceded only seven tries and much of that was down to the skill and experience of Davies in the incredibly taxing 13 channel. Jeremy Guscott rates him the best outside-centre in the world, saying: “If you can get into space inside or outside him, you have cracked a large part of scoring against Wales. But very few can.”Wily old fox: centre Jonathan Davies is a survivor from Wales’ 2012 Grand Slam team (Getty Images)12 Hadleigh ParkesThe other half of Wales’ midfield iron curtain, Parkes echoed his team in improving game by game. People forget the plethora of Welsh handling errors in Paris back on opening night; instead, we admire the Slam-clinching trouncing of Ireland last weekend that featured Parkes’s early try and his magnificent try-saving touchline intervention on Jacob Stockdale, probably the tackle of the tournament.Like Davies, Parkes does the basics well over and over again and his intelligence and consistency gives him the edge here over the power runners, Manu Tuilagi and Bundee Aki.Touch of class: Hadleigh Parkes scores the try that set Wales on their way to victory over Ireland (Getty)11 Jonny MayIf there was a quicker player in the Guinness Six Nations, we didn’t see him. Which is why Stuart McInally, who foxed the chasing May with a change of running angle, should dine out on his try at Twickenham. May’s blistering acceleration makes him lethal when pursuing kick-throughs and he’s adept at gathering a low, skidding ball. In contrast, in Dublin and Cardiff he dealt well with the high stuff.England’s top metre-eater (284) and maker of 11 clean breaks, May has become one of the best finishers on the globe, as 14 tries in his past 15 Tests – including six in this tournament – testifies. He lies joint sixth, on 24, in England’s all-time try list.Six of the best: Jonny May was top try-scorer in the Six Nations, matching Chris Ashton’s 2011 haul (Getty)10 Finn RussellIt’s hard on Gareth Anscombe, who slotted everything against Ireland and was named Man of the Match, but Finn Russell is a level up on the Wales No 10.He tormented Italy and Ireland with his range of kicks, setting up tries for Blair Kinghorn and Stuart Hogg, and has one of the best left-hand passes in world rugby, as he demonstrated by putting Sean Maitland clear in the build-up to Darcy Graham’s second try at Twickenham. Russell is also a master of the intercept, creating further tries through well-timed snatches.The Racing 92 pivot did all this without partner-in-crime Stuart Hogg for most of the tournament and another key attacker, Huw Jones, for half of it. You might have called Russell ‘mercurial’ at one stage but he’s too consistent for that label to apply now.Historic feat: Finn Russell scores one of an unprecedented six tries by a visiting side at Twickenham (Getty)9 Ben YoungsNo one is head and shoulders above the rest in this position, but Youngs came closest to offering the consistency that coaches crave from their scrum-half. His kicking game in Dublin was excellent and perhaps accounts for the Tiger playing all but 37 minutes of the tournament – an exceptionally high figure for a No 9.He makes fewer darts from the base than in his younger days and his box-kicking can be too deep, but he’s always alert to the possibilities, as we saw with his part in Jonny May’s Calcutta Cup try. His 85 caps – an England record for the position – give him a calmness and composure that offset the more volatile nature of half-back partner Owen Farrell.All the other nines had a case for inclusion, most notably Tito Tebaldi and Ali Price, whose sniping and energy helped spark that amazing Scottish fightback last weekend.Taking charge: Ben Youngs, one of Eddie Jones’s most trusted lieutenants, box-kicks against France (Getty)1 Rob EvansMako Vunipola walks into this (and every) team when fit, but his ankle injury against France restricted his involvement. Scotland’s Allan Dell made strides, particularly as a ball-handler, but the Welsh scrum laid the foundation for the Dragons’ success.center_img LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS So Josh Navidi, with his huge engine and a greater tackle accuracy than Curry, pips Ross Moriarty to the No 8 shirt. He has worn it for three of his 16 caps, including the win in Rome.On the hoof: Josh Navidi carries in Paris. He switches from flanker in our composite XV (AFP/Getty)Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.last_img

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