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