Six Nations 2014: Team of the Tournament

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15. Mike Brown (England)
This was a position where every nation could claim to have a top-class incumbent, but it was, surprisingly, the easiest to pick. Brown may look like the sort of tracksuit-wearing youth who conducts unscrupulous deals in an Asda car park, but he has proven time and again this tournament that he is up there with the world’s best fullbacks. With championship-topping stats of 543 metres made, 25 defenders beaten and 10 clean breaks, the Quins man is odds-on to win Player of the Tournament.

14. Andrew Trimble (Ireland)
The Ulster winger finally stepped into the limelight after years of playing a bit-part and how he shone. With three tries and some big displays against France, Italy and Wales, Trimble has shown that he has the finishing instinct to go with his exemplary work rate. He is also a physical and direct presence at the breakdown, which is surprising when you consider that he looks like a lost member of Boyzone.

13. Luther Burrell (England)
It’s with a certain amount of nervousness that I avoid the claims of Brian O’Driscoll, who finished his great career on a deserved high in Paris. Yes, the Irish legend was irresistible against Italy, but aside from that he put in solid – rather than spectacular – displays. Burrell, on the other hand, has been a real find for England. Picking smart lines throughout the championship, he has caused plenty of teams plenty of problems and, in doing so, shown a real eye for the tryline as well. The fact that this was his debut tournament and that he was playing out of position only made his efforts all the more impressive. Michele Campagnaro deserves a mention, too.

12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)
This was one of the trickiest positions to call, with no real standout candidate. Gordon D’Arcy was a reliable presence in the Ireland midfield but barely impacted on the attack and Billy Twelvetrees got better as the tournament went on, but the big doctor gets my vote for some blockbusting displays against France and Scotland. He was denied any decent possession against Ireland and England but he ran hard and direct lines throughout the championship, consistently providing his side with front-foot ball.

11. Yoann Huget (France)
This is cheating as Huget played on the right, but there were very few real contenders on the left flank. George North finished a difficult tournament with an explosive display against the Scots, and Leonardo Sarto also lit up the latter stages, but neither displayed the consistent menace that Huget did for Les Bleus. Even in the dire performances against Scotland and Wales, the burly Toulouse winger was a standout threat.

10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Holding off the challenge of a resurgent Owen Farrell is the Irish playmaker. Sexton may have been a bit wobbly with the boot against France but his authority is absolutely essential to the way that the Irish play. His link work with D’Arcy and O’Driscoll was exceptional – especially against Italy – and his kicking from hand was, in general, superb. His tactical masterclass against Wales in Dublin was a reminder of what an intelligent footballer the Racing Métro man is and, to top it off, he finished as joint-top try scorer.

9. Danny Care (England)
Conor Murray was a reliable presence for Ireland but the Harlequins scrum half is an obvious selection. His decision making has improved markedly, picking his time for tap-and-goes to perfection and he was the heartbeat for England’s high-tempo game this tournament. With two tries and two drop goals to his name as well, he took his opportunities with aplomb and combined this with a vastly improved service, where the “two-step” pass seems to have been largely eliminated. Also, his haircut become less atrocious – although it could just be the presence of Jack Nowell in the side that has improved it by comparison.

1. Cian Healy (Ireland)
Joe Marler enhanced his credentials this tournament but Healy was a standout performer throughout. Constantly a willing ball-carrier, he was a source of go-forward ball for the Irish throughout the championship. He’s lucky that a sly head-charge didn’t get him sent off against France, but his physicality in the loose and in defence is a key component of the Irish game and, combined with a series of strong scrummaging displays, that’s enough to convince me that he’s worthy of his spot.

2. Dylan Hartley (England)
The Northampton hooker just sneaks in ahead of Rory Best and Leonardo Ghiraldini, who both had impressive tournaments. Hartley’s first three matches of the tournament were both accurate and abrasively physical, carrying with venom around the fringes and making the most of a telepathic link with Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes to marshal an almost flawless lineout. His discipline may have let him down against Wales, but his energy and leadership are vital to the England pack.

3. Mike Ross (Ireland)
Another spot with no real star performers although, to be honest, it is hardly the sexiest position. Nicolas Mas had his moments and Davey Wilson did exceptionally well to compete after so long out injured, but Ross is a crucial figure within the Irish set piece. The worry is that the men in green may become overly reliant on him, but the big Leinster number three has justified that reliance with a series of rock-solid displays in the scrum.

4. Joe Launchbury (England)
Devon Toner was a towering presence for Ireland (literally), whilst Jake Ball also impressed for Wales, but Launchbury was simply superb throughout the tournament. Regularly appearing towards the top of the tackle charts, the baby-faced Wasp was a reliable source of turnover ball for England, with three great efforts in the crucial match against Ireland sticking in the memory, along with a spectacular tap-tackle on winger Dave Kearney. He won’t want to relive his final act of the tournament – gifting an interception to Leonardo Sarto – but it doesn’t hide the fact that the nervous Launchbury who was so badly exposed at the Millennium Stadium last year is no more.

5. Courtney Lawes (England)
Paul O’Connell is unlucky to miss out after a momumental performance for Ireland against France, but for impact throughout the tournament it simply has to go to Lawes. The big man was a hard-hitting missile in the periphery of nervous fly-halves’ vision, and he led a ferocious English defensive line that was the most physical in the championship. He seems to have calmed that reckless streak and developed a penchant for running successful a lineout, too, meaning he now looks like he is finally fulfilling that huge promise.

6. Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
There were several strong contenders here, with Dan Lydiate and Tom Wood both taking unglorified but essential roles in their respective teams, but O’Mahony has been a revelation for the Irish. There’s been a sense over the last few years that nobody has really come close to fulfilling the void left by the injury-prone Stephen Ferris, but the Munster skipper managed that this 6 Nations and then some. Two tormentingly ferocious displays against Wales and Scotland in particular showcased his abilities of aggressive tackling, destructive rucking and ball-pilfering at their very best, and he ended the championship with a tournament-high seven turnovers.

7. Chris Robshaw (England)
The England skipper may not always be spectacular, but he is always there at the key moments in a game, and it’s that which sees him take his place on the flank in front of the excellent Chris Henry and Welsh captain Sam Warburton. He was England’s top tackler and so often the link between the forwards and the backs as the English attacking game finally got motoring after roughly a decade lying dormant. An inspirational display against Ireland was the highlight in a tournament where he has hopefully put any remaining doubts over his ability as an openside to rest.

8. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
The big Irish number eight may not seem like an obvious choice, but with Billy Vunipola falling foul of injury and Louis Picamoles tailing off badly, the Leinsterman gets the nod ahead of Dave Denton, who was a tireless presence for the oft-hapless Scots. It wasn’t spectacular, vintage Heaslip – the type of displays that have seen him stereotyped as a showpony – but rather tough, grafting performances, borne out of the knowledge that Ireland required his muscle in the tight with the absence of Sean O’Brien. Because of this, Heaslip was seen less in the wider channels, as we’re accustomed to, and more often in the tight spaces around the fringes, picking up the hard yards that are so important to the Irish gameplan.

By Mike Cooper (@RuckedOver)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

24 thoughts on “Six Nations 2014: Team of the Tournament

  1. Good side, fair reflection. I’d swap Sam in for Robshaw and POC in for Lawes but they are small calls.

  2. Well that’s no fun I completely agree with every selection you’ve made. Great team, and the exact one I’d have picked.

  3. As a welshman, it is a generally fair call, my only quibble would have been in the back row, Falatau was consistent throughout, and arguments could be made for warberton and lydiate, but again back row riches. wouldnt fancy making the calls for the Lions if it was this year not last!! would have put Best in before Hartley, POC and Lawes could have gone either way…

  4. Agree with all of that. Think Faletau was pretty close at number 8 and Nyanga deserves a mention for his brief but brilliant tournament.

  5. Personally I would swap Roberts for Burrell and have BOD at 13, and probably North over Huget. Whilst Roberts was good in the good Welsh displays, he seemed to go missing in the not so good displays. BOD was consistent throughout, and at time sublime with ball in hand.
    Huget was good for France, but North is a different beast altogether.

  6. Can’t argue with that side too much, I’d think 36 has a fair call to the 12 shirt.

    Dislike all the pundits putting Burrell at 12, if he’d been playing at 12 he’d have had a completely different tournament, not making breaks on the outside as often, and likely not freeing up our attacking play as well as 36 in the first place. Perhaps he’d have been better, but it’s not a call you can make. Wouldn’t argue him in the 13 shirt anyway.

  7. Roberts is a name I have a bit of a problem with given how anonymous he was in the two games Wales lost. I guess Twelvetrees is the alternative.

    I think Best just overhauled Hartley, and Warburton over Robshaw, for all Robshaw’s hard work, but both of those are coin toss calls.

    I believe I’d have North instead of Trimble, but that’s a very fair call overall. I agree on 13 out of 15, I think!

    That’s no fun.

  8. Can’t have too many complaints with that. It’s interesting how close a few of the calls are. Welsh back row ended up on the wrong side of a few results, which probably explains their omission. Also, it’s a long shot but if Healy had been carded in France and they had ended up losing, both him and Sexton would probably have lost their places.

  9. Hard to overly disagree with any of the selections. I think Conor Murray is worthy of a mention as he made some telling contributions. It is close between him and care.

    The same with Paul o Connell. An absolute colossus in the French game.

    I think in the long run, the best England midfield is Burrell and tuilagi. 36 is a limited player for me. He doesn’t have the greatest rugby Brian. But plenty of Braun.

    1. Find it bizarre that you don’t want Twelvetrees on the fact that he has brawn but not a rugby brain? And you’d play Burrell and Tuilagi.

      When really, I’d say Twelvetrees is the one without the brawn, but is a very clever playmaker? In what do you feel Twelvetrees is limited? To me, he looks like the most all round centre we have. Can carry, distribute, kick, has managed the defence well… what else do you want from him?

    2. Have to agree with Jacob here. Not sure why you think 36 is all brawn and no brain. I would say he has both, but more brain than brawn.
      Tuilagi and Barritt are all brawn, and the main reason the combo struggled to get many clean breaks playing together.
      36 and Burrell are both brain and brawn. I’ve seen some fantastic awareness and offloads from Burrell this season in a Saints shirt. Also under Alex King his kicking has improved. I think a combo of Burrell and Tuilagi could prove to be the best option we have. As long as Farrell continues to take the ball to the line, and with Ford now looking likely to get more caps, I think these two are the way forward.
      36 got better as the tournament progressed, but will now return to a Gloucester side who have not faired well this season, and are still low on confidence. Burrell returns to a side top of the Premiership and most likely (on form) to lift the trophy if the returning players stay fit. Tuilagi will be in the side if he’s fit because he can bring something no-one else can bring to the shirt. Fear!

  10. Disagree with a few things. Firstly Burrell vs. BOD. I’d disagree that BOD was only solid, maybe by his standards. He was, as always world class and some of the moves he constructed and sublime play are the reason that Ireland beat Wales and France – hands down. No sentiment here, just honest class.

    Roberts. I’ve always been a fan of Roberts, but being the best player is about how you play when your team is down and he was doing Wales no favours. Looked good against Scotland and France when they were providing no competition, but against England and Ireland he looked tired and battered. 12trees handled some great distribution, kicking and defence, D’arcy solidly backed up BOD and worked brilliantly off him.

    Chris Robshaw – plenty of other 7s. He played fine, but only that. Chris Henry played brilliantly consistently and Sam Warburton, even when in a losing side, was scrabbling for every bit of ball on the ground.

    Courtney Lawes – had one game where he did everything right. Just because he wasn’t yellow carded against Scotland for pulling down the lineout or Ireland for lying on the wrong side of the ruck cynically 5m out doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have been and that sort of stupid act could have easily lost a game. Still unimpressed by his carrying and most of his good tackling came in tandem with Launchbury. POC was imperious and while not as fast his carrying was more effective, his leadership crucial and his physicality supreme. I also thought Jake Ball had an excellent 6N, though not always first choice.

    1. Wow, Saints players really do have to work hard to impress you!

      Lawes is also top for line out takes and line out steals, so as well as running an almost flawless line out (when Hartley was on) his personal contribution was the best in the competition. His carrying is really improved as seems to be getting through the tackle more often and offloading (e.g. POC had 7 carries for 0m against England, Lawes managed 26m from 4). His pace and fitness to be making breaks out wide and support play to get on the end of the Burrell/Nowell move, take a difficult ball, stand up in the tackle and offload back was exceptional. I’ve been a fan since 2010 I admit, but was really worrying that he was never going to fulfil the early promise. However his consistent form this season puts him up in the world class bracket.

      BOD didn’t tackle too well against England and really struggled to contain the French midfield, Burrell won the head to head and had no such difficulties against France. Whilst I think he produced moments of brilliance Burrell takes it on consistency.

      1. Lawes is definitely an improved player this tournament, but I don’t think he’s better than POC. Lawes is undeniably a good carrier in space and he has pace but most of that 26m was made in one break and it’s Lawes’ carrying in the tight areas that concerns me. Worth noting as well that Lawes conceded 3 penalties, one of which I felt should have been a yellow card.

        As for BOD vs. Burrell, the amount that BOD is involved is evident from the stats. kick/pass/run 0/2/5 for Burrell 2/12/11 for BOD. Burrell may have tackled more and made more metres per carry, but the sheer level of BOD’s involvement, distributing, kicking and carrying hard yards doesn’t come close to comparison. Across the tournament, Burrell proved to be a quality finisher, but I think the input from O’Driscoll was much more crucial.

        Not sure what it has to do with Saints though. I did pick out 2 Saints players that were being compared to two Irish greats. I also picked out a Quins player and a Racing Métro player who I also didn’t feel were the greatest players in their positions

        1. Bur you did replace the Racing player with an ex-Tiger ;)

          To be able to have a credible debate as to whether an English centre (who isn’t Tuilagi) and an English lock were better than BOD and POC shows how far we’ve come though.

      2. Read in Jiffy’s team of the tourney that Hartley hit 53/55 throws, and one of those had AWJ smothering Lawes. That’s just world class.
        That, and Launchbury’s turnovers, are why my tight five is simply Irish props, English lineout.

    2. Wookie, there is a school of thought that suggests that Lawes “lying on the wrong side of the ruck cynically 5m from the try line” and not getting a card, is a positive reflection on him, not a negative one.

      Personally I would always want my locks to play on the edge like this. I wouldn’t want them to concede a try because “ethically”, they could do nothing else.

      1. I’m not talking about ethical, but if you’re going to cheat, do it discretely, that could just as easily have been yellow and it was not under Lawes’ control that he didn’t get a yellow. I also don’t believe it was necessary for him to stay there to prevent a try. The game was too tight and conceding a yellow card, especially for the primary lineout operator/second row could have easily changed the outcome.

        1. Lawes was fantastically unlucky to get a penalty there, a card would have been ridiculous.

          The reason he gave a pen was because Joubert had deemed the maul to have broken up, and now it was an individual tackle, and a ruck. There hadn’t been repeated offenses, it wasn’t a probably try scoring situation, it was just a guy who thought a maul had gone down, but had been told it was a ruck after. It happened to the Irish at one point too I believe, which is all you can ask of a ref, consistency.

  11. Would pick most of that team myself but would have North over Huget. Huget didn’t do much for he scored some good but lucky tries and yes you have to be in the right place and the right time, but he is an international winger, I kinda expect that.

    Agree massively with the comments about Roberts, found him to be complete anonymous against England and Ireland. Also think if you going to pick a team (yeah I know it’s only a bit off fun but still) you should pick it with partnerships and balance in mind and therefore I’d have Twelvetrees at 12 as I don’t think a Burrell Roberts partnership would work personally.

    The only other change I would possible make would be Falatau over Heaslip but with no stand out No. 8 (for me anyway) I think you could have pick anyone of them.

  12. So you don’t pick BOD because he only had a couple of more than solid games, yet you do pick Roberts, who had two great games but butchered chances against England when he got the ball and was completely anonymous against Ireland.

    Centre was the hardest to pick, with Burrell, BOD, Twelvetrees and D’Arcy being the 4 to pick from for me.

    Wales’s “flat-track bullies” who only won against the bottom three at home, and whose star names (Halfpenny aside) only played well in those three games, don’t warrant a place ahead of Irish and English (essentially) who played better.

  13. I think that you have to look at the head to head games where it’s a really tight call between players.

    Think Burrell got the better of BoD.

    Think 12Ts and D’Arcy both got the better of Roberts. I would go for 12Ts as he offers more than D’Arcy.

    Hartley v Best pretty much a tie, but I would have gone for Best.

    Lawes shaded PoC, who did though have a good tournament.

    Thought Warburton shaded Robshaw in their head to head.

    To be fair we are talking about fine margins with some good players playing well. Roberts would be the only questionable name put forward to me, and even he wasn’t bad in a position where nobody really lit up the tournament.

  14. Mahony was the standout player for me. He bossed the breakdown in every game he played. Thought the Welsh back row was let down by the rest, but can see that tiredness could play a factor. I’d still take 2 out of three Taffies if I was picking Lions with Vunipola to come on.
    Robshaw and Wood are both fantastic but lack the x-factor.
    Got to say also, props to Denton and Brown. Almost like if you played well then Johnson would drop you..

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