RBS 6 Nations 2012 Player of the Championship Shortlist:
Sergio Parisse, David Denton, Ross Rennie, Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate, Alex Cuthbert, Julien Malzieu, Rory Best, Donnacha Ryan, Imanol Harinordoquy, Yoann Maestri, Johnny Sexton
Looking back to the results of the 2011 Player of the Championship awards, Andrea Masi appeared to sneak up on the results like a thief in the night to claim the prize. Perhaps that analysis is not entirely just, after all, it was Masi who scored the all important try in Italy’s first win against France. Yet given Italy’s otherwise lowly performances, the fact that the award did not go to a member of England’s championship side was a surprise.
This is mainly down to the fact that once the names are announced, whoever the chosen winner might be is out of both RBS and the 6 Nations governing body’s hands. The 12 names selected are those who picked up Man of the Match awards through the first four rounds of the tournament. Given that these tend to go to the home side, regardless of whether they have been successful or not, this creates the following list of names above.
The net result therefore is that fans and pundits automatically scoff when the shortlist is revealed, despite the fact that probably in 75% of the cases the nominees have done enough to make the cut. However, given that the players selected are picked to contest an award to decide the best player of the championship, means the systems falls into disrepute.
Going through the 2012 shortlist, two names in particular are contestable. Julien Malzieu has been resplendent for Clermont throughout the Heineken Cup and Top 14, yet under the centralised Saint-André playbook, both he and Vincent Clerc have failed to shine, both chastised as a result. One splendid try against Italy aside, he has been completely underwhelming.
The other is Donnacha Ryan. Admittedly, against Scotland last weekend Ryan was excellent, but this was his first start in the Six Nations. In the three substitute performances beforehand, he had done enough to perhaps warrant a start, but not to be tipped to pick up the award for the tournament’s best player.
Narrowing a shortlist down to 12 players is by no means an easy process, but rather than opting for what is essentially an easy way out by referring back to each game and simply picking the Man of the Match, the process should be taken more seriously.
Appoint 12 former captains, two from each country, to select their Player of the Championship, but prevent them from voting for players from their own country. Sort through the inevitable matching choices, which could spring some surprises when ex-players are down to their 3rd or 4th picks, before compiling the list and releasing it to the public to decide the winner. Furthermore, just because there are six countries participating does not mean that there has to be at least one player from each country on the list. The shortlist should be based on quality, not politics. Any snub should serve as motivation to improve.
The reason for the changeover is purely because the release of a shortlist for such a prestigious award (or at least is should be), should not be met with overriding derision and mockery, but with a consensus of both respect and difficulty to pick a winner.
Therefore, based on performances throughout the tournament, here would be my personal 12 candidates for the award, in no particular order:
Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Dan Lydiate, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris, Wesley Fofana, Thierry Dusautoir, David Denton, Richie Gray, Owen Farrell
Considered: Jonathan Davies, Mouritz Botha, Dan Cole, Brad Barritt, Sergio Parisse, Pascal Papé, Stuart Hogg, Ross Rennie
What is interesting is that even picking on form, only one English player still makes the final 12. This is down to the fact that England have been collectively both poor and excellent as a unit, not individually. Yes Tom Croft scored a magnificent try in Paris, as did Manu Tuilagi but their efforts overall have not warranted an award. Perhaps if Ben Morgan has started the first two matches and played to the same effect he would be on the list.
As said earlier, the beauty of a shortlist is for fans to contest the chosen one and submit their own. With that in mind, please submit yours in the comments, arguments in tow.
by Ben Coles